Former Cross River State Governor and presidential standard bearer of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Mr. Donald Duke has earned his place in the body polity. Today, people still recall his days as governor of one of the least wealthy South-south states with the fond memories of a man, who dared to be different. Often described as Nigeria’s version of former US President Barak Obama, Duke typifies the new age leader, who not only understands what the issues are and able to sell them, but more importantly, has at his fingertips, the solutions to some of Nigeria’s familiar challenges. Breathing confidence, knowledge and capacity, Duke, in a two-hour engagement with Olawale Olaleye and Olaseni Durojaiye, tore apart many of Nigeria’s challenges and at the same time provided solutions, shockingly off-the-top of his head. Excerpts:
Afew days back, the Court of Appeal, Abuja, confirmed you as the presidential candidate of the SDP, and now that the storm is somewhat over, what has changed?
You know, the victory in the court was a pyrrhic victory. We went through a totally unnecessary process. We had what was adjudged the best organised primaries, and this is Independent Electoral Commission’s view on the 6th of October, 2018. Before the primaries, indeed, we all agreed that we would respect the outcome of the primaries. We all knew who and who were contesting the primaries weeks before it was held.
In fact, we all sat in a room for the screening, so we knew ourselves. There was myself, Prof. Gana, John Dara, Osakwe and others. We were all laughing and teasing each other. In fact, at that forum, I proposed that ‘why are we going through this process, let’s reach a consensus – vote for yourself and one other person and whoever has single largest votes would be the candidate’. He (Gana) laughed at me, the others took it seriously, but he didn’t.
Immediately after the primaries, which I was declared the winner with 812 votes to his own 611, I went over to him and we shook hands, then, he stormed out of the venue and this whole saga started. He said I shouldn’t have contested in the first place that it was reserved for the North. I called him on three occasions, because this was needless. You cannot zone the presidency of Nigeria; it is regulated by the constitution not by political parties.
Besides, the constitution of the party says where the presidential candidate of the party comes from a section of the country; the chairman must come from the other section of the country. I am not the president, I am just the presidential candidate and even that clause was not being applied, because that constitution was ratified on the day of the convention. It was the former constitution that made no mention of the zoning that applied.
Anyway, he got his judgment and I appealed. And since I am the appellant, I could not be seen to be campaigning while appealing, because I will be in contempt. He could campaign, because he was not the one appealing. I was the one appealing and I should show respect to the court I was appealing to. So, that took six weeks out of us, but we’re here now. I hear he wants to go to the Supreme Court, but I am going to start my campaign effectively this week.
The sad thing is we’ve lost time; we have lost the opportunity to present an alternative face to the Nigerian polity, because if you followed the online trend and the surveys that have been carried out, most Nigerians are looking for an alternative to these two parties. In fact, 67 per cent, which is very high, wanted an alternative to the two big parties and we wanted to position the SDP as an alternative to the polity.
Even if we don’t win, it will enable the others to sit up and not continue to play this game of musical chairs. If you defeat me here, I run there, which is what is happening and which is sickening. Literarily, half of the PDP has moved over to the APC now.
So, would you say that the period of the crisis has in anyway, affected your campaigns and by extension, your chances?
Of course, it has. We have to work four, five times harder to catch up and will require a lot, not just resources. We need to do what I termed smart campaign. We can’t campaign in the rather conventional manner, because the others are way ahead of us. If you’re running a race on a track and the others have given you two or three days gap, if you want to catch up with them, you can’t be running a track, you have to use a plane or something faster to catch up with them. So, we have to use what I call smart campaign.
It is good that your party wants to sell itself as the alternative face to the Nigerian public. But honestly speaking, do you think you stand any chances at all?
You know well too that the level of disenchantment within the polity is very high. There are very few people, who are excited by the APC and the PDP, and this has been going on in our polity for a very long time and that’s why turnout during elections is very low. You find out that we have 89 million voters at the end of the day only 30 million people show up.
Fifty million people just don’t, because they feel it’s not going to change anything. So, we need to excite the populace that sees you as an alternative now. Can we go for it which is what we want to do?
Now, can we still do it? I think we can still do it and that’s why I talked about the smart campaign. I think we can do it. We are still almost three weeks before the elections. There are a lot of folks that you can reach in three weeks if you do what I intend to do and then let them know that it doesn’t have to be either of these two. I was a founding member of the PDP, so, I am not being holier than thou now, but my problem with the PDP is that there is no attempt to change the narrative. Yes, we got sloppy – the PDP was the first truly national party in Nigeria and that was something.
The APP at the time was not a national party; it was more northern-based and the Alliance for Democracy (AD) was more South-west. PDP was the first truly national party. We had the South-south and the South-east, the North Central and parts of the North West, like Kano, Kaduna and all that. But they frittered all that and gangsterism came into the party and they became arrogant. The word we like to use is impunity, and they lost. Nigerians voted them out.
But Nigerians voted them out for a party that was not ready for leadership. I mean after six months without a cabinet it became evident that the party was not ready for leadership. They were just interested in grabbing power. So, the PDP lost that opportunity, and they have not made any attempt to regain it. If you look at the composition of the APC cabinet, there are a few good people there. President Buhari has an excellent lieutenant. The Vice President is an excellent lieutenant.
You talked about smart campaigns, but where does that sit within the assumption that there are only two major parties?
Without telling you much about what a smart campaign is, it is an unconventional means of communication, because campaign is communication. You’re trying to communicate with the electorate, so, we have to communicate in a smarter way than others and ensure that our message gets across.
That’s what we are working on. We have a team putting that together. The two largest parties – the APC and the PDP – this is a zero-sum game for them. Being a founding member of the PDP, I still have a lot of friends in there. Theirs is a do-or-die. They’re already dying. They know that if the APC has another four years, they are dead, because the man is just beginning to show his fangs.
The APC on the other hand is like, if the PDP comes back, they will resurrect corruption and kill us finally. So, for the two of them, it is a zero-sum case, but when two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers. Nigeria will suffer for this if we’re not careful. You see, individual ego has held our country down for too long. The main people, who are holding back this country, you can put them in this room. Forget their minions – their supporters – you can put the main people here and there will be space for everybody. So, we are being held back by the egos of a few people and we need to rise against them.
My take is that the people want to rise but they’re looking for direction and leadership to enable them to do so. The Chief Justice of Nigeria issue, if they say there are allegations against you, and they seem to have a major case against him, go open with it – send it to the National Judicial Council (NJC), if you send the allegations to the NJC and you go public with the allegation even if they said he is the head of the NJC, they will run away from him. Two, he cannot chair that forum.
If you want to remove someone like that, you have to follow the due process. But what has happened is that they procured an Ex Parte order from the CCT and then the president in a speed unknown to our judicial system brings and swears in Tanko Muhammed. And Tanko failed to tell them that you have to go through due process.
When Rotimi Amaechi wanted to appoint a Chief Justice, he brought someone and the NJC said no, the same thing in Abia State and they told the person, who accepted the position to proceed on compulsory retirement. You have to follow due process. Now, Tanko stands the risk of losing his job too for not advising properly. The two of them may have to go. Truth is they have a rivalry, so, Tanko in his haste went to be sworn in.
Nobody in the court knew that that he was being sworn in. The other justices of the Supreme Court knew nothing about the swearing-in, because he went in a clandestine manner to be sworn in. If you looked at the video, you won’t see any of the other justices of the Supreme Court, even the vice president wasn’t there, which shows that he too was uncomfortable with it, because the legal profession is his constituency. How does he explain it?
Even the Attorney General, after his tenure, what happened to Aondoakaa (Michael) will happen to him. He will be brought before the legal Privileges Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and they will take away his license to practice. But the federal government seems to have more than enough proofs against him (Onnoghen). How do you explain three million dollars in your account?
Now, they said they have conversations between him and Wike, publish it; you said you have proof of his conversation with PDP of Secondus, publish it; if you do that even his justice colleagues will distance themselves from him. Do you know you could do a good thing in a bad way? That is what they have done with the Onnoghen case?
There is an entrenched assumption that the presidential election is a two-horse race. How are you able to undo this assumption in pushing forward with your smart campaign?
That’s why I say it is a smart campaign and only time will tell the direction of this race. It may appear like a two-horse race but deep down, most people would rather it were not because they are disillusioned with the two horses or the riders of the two horses and so, a smarter horse can just come in and overtake the two horses while they’re going wrong. Don’t rule it out. You see, a lot of tactical errors have been made.
Look at the presidential debate on television. Buhari boycotted it; Atiku went there and walked away. In other words, Nigerians don’t even deserve to hear from them. For Atiku, Nigerians would love to hear from him. In fact, that would have been an excellent opportunity for him to show that ‘I am different’. But he blew it and that’s the kind of arrogance and impunity that I am talking about. When you talk about PDP and arrogance it’s still there. They have not changed their ways. Buhari does not participate and does not care.
Same thing in 2015, Jonathan didn’t come for the debate, because arrogance had set in. In 2011, Buhari came for the debate but Jonathan didn’t. Buhari came because arrogance had not set in at the time. Even if he had sent the vice presidential candidate to represent him and people said no, that will amount to examination malpractices. But, at least, there would have been an attempt to honour the debate. Buhari didn’t show up, then, you that showed up when you heard that one person didn’t show up, you just walked away.
Did you think his staying back could have changed anything?
He probably would have been able to sell himself better. Who knows Atiku’s views? Apart from selling NNPC, do you know other views? I don’t know any other views. He wants to reduce the price of petrol. Honestly, that’s a smart thing to do. But if you buy something at N1:00 will you sell it at 50 Kobo? I believe that Nigeria needs some cushion in their lives, because things are very tough but you don’t subsidise what you don’t have.
There are other things that you can subsidise like the gas that we are flaring. We are selling gas for local consumption at international price, but we’re flaring the gas. So, why can’t we give the gas at like N10, which is like 10 Cents? If we subsidise that, the electricity bill will crash. It will encourage people to stop using diesel and switch to gas and we have it in abundance.
I have always advocated that there has to be a lot more thinking in our attitude. We spend more on subsidising petrol than we do on our education. We spend N1.8 trillion, almost 20 per cent of our budget subsidising petrol for cars to drive on roads that do not exist. We spend more on subsidising petrol than the works budget. We spend more on subsidising petrol than on health budget. We must be crazy.
What’s the big deal about petrol, even if the price of petrol was N300, we will still drive but we will only have to plan our journey? But subsidise gas. We have the gas in abundance; we don’t even know how much we have. So, we’re flaring.
Until recently, we were flaring about 2.5 billion cubic meters of gas a day. That is about 24 million litres of diesel, more than the entire petrol that we consume daily. We can have the gas distributed all over Nigeria so that it is available, then, subsidise it. It will stimulate industrial growth, cost of production will drop significantly and it will help the country, and when you do that, you expand the economy and it will widen your tax base. So, even that thing that you call subsidy, you’re making more money from it.
But they don’t have the political will. They believe that if they do it people will shout. People will shout if they don’t understand what you’re doing. If you tell the people that we’re going to switch these things and explain to the people that we need money to invest in roads, health and it will benefit us, people will understand. People are not stupid; they just need to be engaged. These are the kinds of things that the debate could have afforded Atiku to do, but he walked away. He lost a great opportunity there.
You seek the job of a man, who is desperate to return. What makes you think you are better off or makes him less qualified to return?
Let me put it this way: If I run, I lose and if I don’t run, I’m guaranteed to lose. What is the consequence of losing this election? You have a country that is running towards perdition. At independence, our population was 45 million, our land mass was 928,000 square kilometres; it is shrinking by the day, because of desertification and erosion, in other words, we’re being assaulted from the North and the South.
By the end of the civil war, our population was 55 million. By the time Shagari was president, we were 75 million and our budget was $25 billion annually. Shagari spent $25 billion annually for four years.
Today, our population is 200 million and we’re spending $23.8 billion as our budget. Between the Shagari presidency and now is 40 years, in 30 years from now, which is less than between the Shagari era and now, our population will be 400 million, we will be the third most populous nation on earth after India and China.
At the turn of this century, we’d be a billion Nigerians. Where is the land mass? What can slow down that growth? Prosperity! Prosperity shrinks population. The more prosperous people are, the lower the desire to have more children. It is not rational but that’s how it is. That’s why you find that in western countries, their population is dipping.
China is becoming more prosperous; their population is dipping. India’s population rose out of poverty, when they started becoming prosperous their population is dipping. It is the trend. Ours will not be different, because enlightenment follows and you realise why you are having all those children. Today, they tell you we need all these children to help you in the farm, in other words, you’re cultivating slave labour and all that. That’s the mentality.
If at 200 million people, we’re faced with Boko Haram, Herdsmen crisis, kidnap and corruption – all sorts of crimes – and all these things are symptoms of poverty.
Mind you, nobody who has a stake in a society will fight a war. Boko Haram is there, because these guys have no stake in the society. Nobody with a stake in society will go around kidnapping, because he can be imperiled. Corruption thrives in an environment of poverty, because there are two types of corruption: there is that of greed and there is that of need.
That of need is where, for example, a policeman is married with four children; he has aged parents at home, and as an inspector, he has a gun, he will go to the road and collect bribe even if he were a pastor on Sunday or Imam on Friday. He will collect it and justify it. That is corruption of need. You cannot eliminate that. No war against indiscipline can stop that, because of the pressure on him. If one of his children is ill and requires surgery and the doctor is demanding N50, 000 of him, if he sees money he’ll take, because the system has compromised him.
Now, we’re in a society where 80 per cent depends on the goodwill of 20 per cent to survive. I am sure that you are used to everyday people begging you for money. I have had about five today. Some wanted to pay school fees, start a small business – 80 per cent of such requests are genuine. These days, I get request from people that I have never heard of. They tell me you don’t know me but I heard you’re a kind man.
In other words, many Nigerians are dependent on others. That shouldn’t be. This is a nation where nobody should be poor. You can be as rich as you want to be but we cannot allow you to fall below certain living standards, because if you do you’ll be a parasite on others and as a parasite, you know what happens to the host; the host will eventually be annihilated.
Now, when we attain 400 million, what will happen to us? And it will happen in our lifetime. If I lived up to 80 years old, I’d see it. If I don’t see it, certainly, my children will see it. What are we doing to stem this? Is there any sustainable direction? China has grown in the last 30 years. China is not 50 years in growth. The magic we call China is a 30-year phenomenon – deliberate! Things don’t just happen, people make things happen. China just decided, ‘with our history and our population, we cannot lag behind; we have to be number one’ and they went for it.
India has woken up to that fact that if China is doing it, we too can do it. But we are just hoping that it will happen. It will never happen; people make things happen. Unfortunately, for us, our mindset is even worse. We allow issues of ethnicity and religion to divide us. But the real division is inadequacy. If you have a family of children, they love themselves and could play with each other from morning till night but they are very poor. The moment you put food on the table and they know the food is not enough, that’s when you know who the first child is; that’s when you know who the lady is; that’s when you know who the last child is, because there is not enough.
But if there was enough, they will just stroll to the table and eat and go. It is inadequacy that reminds us that I am a Christian, I am a Moslem. Today, the government is on Onnoghen. They say, ‘ooh, it is because he is a Christian from the South’. I have been getting text messages from Cross River State, telling me you cannot sit down and let this happen to him, he is our brother. But I was like, ‘Onnoghen should explain himself’. But the government is not helping issues. Worst thing is, you take out Onnoghen and you put a Tanko. You see now, because we input meanings into all those things.
But you see, what the Northern Moslem wants is not different from what the Southern Christian wants; we all want prosperity. We all want to be able to fend for ourselves. It is not what you want that is different; you use what you have to get what you want.
All these things are symptoms of a larger picture and that picture is poverty. And believe me, I am ready to partner anybody that is ready to address that poverty, but I don’t see it. Buhari has no clue to it; in fact we have been poorer under his watch. PDP led us to where we are and they are not apologetic about bringing us to where we were. I mean, we had the highest income under their watch.
In fact, when I see Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala talking at international fora, it is sad, because that woman failed as Minister of Finance and the Coordinating Minister for the Economy. She failed woefully and blames everybody but herself. She blames the governors, blames Oshiomhole but she says she was the Minister of the Economy, you can’t blame everybody; you can’t pass the buck. You are not just Minister of Finance you’re the Minister of the Economy. And if these things were what happened, why didn’t you raise your voice. No, she is writing book, ‘if you fight corruption, corruption will fight back’.
Even if for a selfish basis, we need to change the trajectory of this country. All of us sitting down here are endangered species. We’re a kidnapper’s dream. You work for THISDAY, they know that THISDAY cannot afford to let you go, they will pay N5 million to let you go and they will collect the money and set you free.
In Cross River State, we used to pride ourselves with safety. One day they kidnapped Senator Patrick Ani. When they went through his phone, they saw some numbers and they were like, ‘oh, you know all these people,’ they started with $5 million and in the end, they came to about N100 million. Patrick was only able to generate about N60 million to pay them. So, they told Patrick they were going to drop him. When they were approaching the house, they asked for the person they used to talk to in his house.
He was like his house keeper – in broad they light – when they were approaching his house, they said he should call him so that he could come and receive him. When they got to the house, they dropped Patrick and picked the boy and told him go and find the balance of N40 million so that they could release him, since he said if he were out, he could raise the money. You see that kind of impunity. If I’m here and my children are out there by 11:00 pm, I am frantic. I start calling, ‘where are you guys?’ I want to know where you are. Honestly, people build society for the next generations. If you and I didn’t build our society for the next generation, we are in trouble.
Already, we are a nuisance to the neighbourhood. Boko Haram kidnapped the wife of the Deputy Prime Minister of Cameroon. A local problem has transcended our borders. Britain, France and Germany have 15,000 troops between Mali and Cameroon trying to act as a buffer so that ISIS in the North and Boko Haram in the South could not meet. Why would they be spending such money if we’ve got our acts together? Seventy per cent of migrants going to Europe are Nigerians. In the past, they used to come and steal us into slavery, but now we willingly walk into slavery and nobody is saying anything about it. We’re just watching.
You were going to talk about the poverty of greed?
Poverty of greed is what we are fighting. When a minister steals N1billion, they say he is a big thief. That is a weakness of institutions. Look at Dariye, the offence he has been jailed for was committed in 2002. It took almost 16 years for Dariye to face justice. If it is going to take that long, you can take your bet that they may likely not catch you, because the actors may have died or something. It’s just a fluke that Dariye was made to face justice. It is when you have weak institutions, weak judiciary and all that, that these things happen.
When I was in school at the University of Pennsylvania, my uncle, who loved me so much, Pius Okigbo, the Economist, came to the States and put $5000 in my account. Immediately, the Internal Revenue Services (IRS) shut down my account. That was in 1983. I had to explain who gave it to me and they got in touch with him to explain why he gave me the money and how he came about the money. He had a Swiss bank account and they called his bank to explain.
I couldn’t use the account for one week. Then they wrote to the IRS and they freed my account. That’s where you have strong institutions, because my account has never seen that kind of account before. Today, even if I put N2 billion in my account, nobody will ask any questions. If it takes 16 years to get justice in Nigeria, you can as well take your bet that it may never happen to you.
The court process is too slow and we as lawyers will say justice delayed is justice denied. The process is delayed intentionally. Why can’t a case be adjudicated within 45 days? From the time a case is filed to the time judgment is given, it shouldn’t take more than 45 days in the first instance. Appeal cannot exceed 30 days and except it is a constitutional matter, it should never go to the Supreme Court. It should end at the appeal level, better still, let’s start with mediation. For one week, we’d mediate if we disagreed, then, we start the court process. That’s why I talk about weak institutions.
The moment I showed interest in contesting for president, EFCC started writing me letters, for what – to threaten me? If you look at the pyramid of corruption, the corruption of greed is just the pick. The amount may sound outlandish, but in terms of the global figure of corruption, it is very small. Ask yourself, how many people are in that kind of position of influence that can make that kind of money? When they heard that Diezani, made away with that kind of money people were alarmed. How many people are in that bracket? They are very few. But if you looked at corruption of need and you aggregate all the money involved, it runs into trillions.
That is where the real corruption is and that one you cannot stop it by strengthening institution, you have to eliminate poverty. You can’t stop corruption but you can curb it. Even the people in this government that say they are fighting corruption, they don’t understand it. You cannot fight a hydra headed monster except you know its weak point, because if you cut one head, another one will show up, you cut that one and another one will show up again, so, you have to go to a point where if you cut everything, it will go and that is poverty.
Nigeria no longer has middle class. If there was a plane crash today, you and I would know someone in that plane. If in a population of 200 million people, there was a plane crash, you must know one of them, sometimes even if 150 people were on the plane crash, you must know one of them. That shows you how small our middle class is, and how poor we are in real terms. We are very poor.
In some of the president’s recent public appearances, he appeared not to be coherent let alone, understand what the issues are. Would you say it is a sign of his being incapable of holding that office again?
I am not a medical doctor. I cannot judge his physical and mental health. Of course, if your leader appears incoherent, you are worried. If your leader does not seem to understand the issues being thrown at him, you’re concerned. It his responsibility to assure us that he is coherent and mentally and physically fit. He deprived us of that opportunity at the presidential debate, at least, we’d be able to judge his mental state from the ways he reacts to the questions thrown at him and the way he goes about it. Not long after, we saw him at a rally staggering and almost collapsing into a chair. So, we’re worried knowing full well that the president himself admitted to being in the hospital for a couple of months.
We are worried how fit he is, because this is a 24/7 job. It is a very demanding job. He is not a young man by any stretch of the imagination, so, at that age, the onus is on him to prove that he is of good health. It is not for me to assume. He has to prove it. If he were a 40-year old, you could say let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and say he is fit and agile. In your late and upper 70, the onus is on you to convince your people that you’re fit enough to do the job.
The case of the Chief Justice of Nigeria is fast assuming a global concern and everyone seems to be firing from all cylinders, suggesting what should be done. What in your view is the way out?
The thing about leadership is that it follows arrogance. Government is never humble enough to say I made a mistake here and I apologise. We need to do it over again. I think Onnoghen’s case settled itself even by the response he gave the issues thrown at him. ‘Oh I forgot’. The Chief Law Officer cannot forget to obey the law and if you forgot, you have to bear it. Ignorance of the law is no excuse. But follow the procedure, send it to NJC. If you say he was in cahoots with the PDP, send the evidence to NJC. If you say since that happened you have even found more spurious accounts, send it to NJC, because you are talking about the head of an arm of government – an equal arm to yours. Now, it looks as if all the other arms are working under the executive, even during the military era, no chief justice was treated this way.
In a democracy, you follow due process, because democracy is about due process. The constitution is very clear about how to remove a chief justice, so you follow the process. Don’t short-circuit it. More than anything else, this is government that tried to remove the head of the legislative arm of government, now you have removed the head of the judiciary. Is it that you can’t work with anyone? Then, the problem is you. I worry for them. They are taking us back to 1985.
There was a guy called Bartholomew, who was executed for drug possession and trafficking at a time there was no death penalty in our laws. They passed the laws and killed the guy.
That high-handedness led to the collapse of that government. History is about repeating itself albeit in another manner – high-handedness. Tanko was sworn in without the knowledge of his colleagues.
In the Supreme Court, they are all equals. They use seniority to head the court. In terms of judgment, they are the same, so if seven or five of them empanelled and three read this way, while two read that way, even if the two include the chief justice, the majority carries the day. So, they are all equals. The job of the chief justice is purely administrative. You just invited Tanko in a very ‘Nichodemus manner’. While they were swearing him in, the CJN was in his office working because he was preparing to swear in the judges for the electoral tribunal, and while he was working, Tanko went and took oath.
The whole thing is comical. After he was sworn in, he didn’t return to the office. The next thing was they saw on television that he had been sworn in. They went to the CJN office and asked him: ‘Oga, are you aware that Tanko has been sworn in?’ They went to his office and met his secretary, when they asked where he was, the secretary said Oga left about three hours ago. That is what we have reduced governance to in Nigeria.
There is the tendency to contextualise Nigeria’s problem into a tripod of security, corruption and economy. But education is being relegated, without which genuine development can’t take place. What is your take on this?
I agree with you that we’ve contextualised Nigeria’s problem under corruption, insecurity and economy, but they are all under the guise of economy. Insecurity is a symptom of a deeper problem; even corruption at this extent is a symptom of a deeper problem. What are the factors that will eliminate poverty and enhance our productivity as Nigerians? Skills-based education, health and infrastructure – on those three indices, we’re doing very badly. Even the people that were fortunate enough to school, when they come out, you are not sure it is an education. When it comes to healthcare, forget it. It is zero.
That’s why today anyone that has cancer in the country is gone. We don’t cure cancer here. Infrastructure is zero. So, on those three indices, we have failed. So, why are we surprised that we’re poor? Not only must we be educated, we must function in a digital world. We have to ensure that our education system is skills-based. In fact, we must have a basic knowledge of cybernomics just like in the past, when to be able to function you must be able to read and write. Today, to be able to function, you must have basic knowledge of how the cyber-world works otherwise you can’t function.
There is this new data that just came out about the happiest countries in the world and you’d find out that Finland is number one and the basis of Finland being number one is education. It is the third wealthiest country in the world per capital; it is the safest country in the world; it has the best primary education in the world, and their prison system is purely rehab. So, you have the fewest number of people in prison per capital. That says it all.
You can’t run a country on gross illiteracy; it is only illiteracy that leads us to parochialism, because if I am an illiterate and I am speaking with you and you are literate, I’ll have a complex. So, anytime you say something, I will say ‘because you go school pass me?’
When I was in the National Economic Team, there was this minister of transport. He is late now and his special adviser was a professor. Anytime he came for the meeting of the committee, he’d say, ‘Prof, with deference to you, he is my special adviser. I only have school certificate but he is advising me’ and the professor too will sheepishly say ‘yes sir, yes sir.’
The professor was kowtowing to the general, who was always trashing him in public. I think it is misplaced. It is all about enlightenment. God created us to create enlightenment. Christ and Prophet Mohammed came to the world for enlightenment. The whole world is about enlightenment, so, start from there.
When they say you are an elite; it means you are enlightened. The word elite is from enlightened people, that is why they say elite should lead, enlightened people should lead. The concept of creation itself is about enlightenment, so that man can be enlightened; know how to deal with self and others. Then you turn around from the plan of the creator and you glorify illiteracy. That’s a problem.
From the time of your school age, which is about four or six to the time when you’re post-school ages – about 18 – because by the time you are in Senior Secondary School 3, the chances are that you are about 18 years old and must be in school. The challenge is how to fund it but it can also create a lot of jobs.
In Finland, each class is about 20 to 25 students and has two teachers. One is teaching the class and the other one they call them rear teachers. He is teaching those who are slow in catching up, because they have a policy that no one must be left behind. So, even if you’re a weak student, the rear teacher makes you catch up with the others. And they grade the promotion of the teachers on the passage of students. You can’t all fail and still promote the teacher. There is no bad student but there are bad teachers. For that alone will create employment for all these graduates, even sowing uniforms will create job. Making teaching aides and appliances will create jobs. For me, it is all about job creation.
Nigeria has 22 million housing shortage, it is bad but for me, it is a big challenge. It is a good opportunity, because if you have a housing policy, which says you must build a million houses a year, which you can do. It creates a huge employment opportunity. The Navy in Calabar built a hundred units within six months during the rainy season. It is not that we can’t do it. They built it under N2 million per unit. They used laterite and the quality is so good. If they start to put air conditioner and fancy tiles, the cost will go up.
They built an entire barracks under Admiral Oluwole. We can do it, even if they say because of contractor factors the cost rises to N3 million, we can build a million unit yearly. It costs N1 trillion. Everybody that has a roof over his head has a stake in your country. He will not take up arms against his country, because he has an address; he has a roof over his head. And if I give you N3 million and I say pay over 15 to 20 years, you will pay it. And that will employ 15 million people that will create ancillary industries, toiletries, plumbing, carpentry, masonry, electrical – all the things that we are bringing in from China – we can bring them in and make it here.
I could say, okay I want to set you up for life. Let’s say, there are five doors per house, that means 5 million doors and I say I want you to supply me one million doors yearly. I give you a concession, you go to the bank, not these banks that are charging high interest rates, because when I come in, the first thing I will do is to cut the interest rate to seven per cent. Government gives you licence to operate and it cannot regulate you? Why should I give you a licence to operate and I cannot regulate you? That’s another story entirely.
So, I give Seni, for instance, a concession. He goes and sets up a factory and all his doors I buy from him. Seni will employ about 100 people, by that I have not only set up Seni, I have created employment for about 100 people. But, today, all those doors we have been buying from China. It is the factories in China that are making all the gains. Everyday we eat bread but all that wheat is imported and we are not a small country. This is not Togo, so, we are keeping farmers alive in America. All the foreign exchange that we earn, we give it back to them. Even if wheat can’t grow in Nigeria, can’t we find a substitute for them? Must we use wheat? In America, they have what they call corn bread.
So, why can’t we eat corn bread? We have millet; we have sorghum, why can we use what we have rather than creating industries elsewhere? And what are we getting back from them? The Americans have no respect for us. They don’t buy our oil. They were so quick to walk away from our oil but we’re still buying wheat from them. Think about it. We made beer out of barley and hops; we want to get drunk on imported raw materials, why can’t we get drunk on maize and sorghum?
There was a time we banned importation of barley and hops. The breweries converted to making their products from sorghum. When they first started, the beer were smelling funny but they perfected it to the point that they were even exporting Guinness from local materials, then, we stopped it and we started importing again.
Now, we’re getting high on imported stuff. We import Champagne. I am not against anybody’s lifestyle, you can drink, you can smoke, you can do whatever you want to do but localise it; use it to create industries here. The Japanese uses rice for their beer, their alcohol – almost everything. They ferment it. How are we going to challenge ourselves and set up industries if we are just always consuming?
There is this perception that you were former President Obasanjo’s initial choice as presidential candidate, leading to the formation of the Third Force. But at some point, he openly endorsed his former deputy, Atiku Abubakar. Where does this leave you now?
I have a good rapport and relationship with former president Obasanjo but I am not sure I was his choice candidate. Also I could remember Obasanjo has only one vote. In running for the president of Nigeria, I am looking at majority vote. I am not looking for the vote of everybody particularly, that of former president Obasanjo, because he is a man of great influence in Nigeria and I have had a good relationship with him since 1999 and I cherish it a lot. But I don’t think I was his choice candidate.
Obviously, you know I don’t support his choice candidate, because I feel that what Nigeria is seeking – that platform and that candidate – he cannot provide it. I feel we need to do things differently. We need to change the trajectory of Nigeria radically. If we continue doing the same thing and using the same people and we expect a different result, we are only deceiving ourselves. Nothing good can come out of PDP – nothing!
There’s this story that many have been itching to validate from you. The story was that sometime in 2006, you were president Obasanjo’s natural choice as running mate to the late President Umaru Yar’Adua and that when you were approached, you turned down the offer, because you thought you were better than Yar’Adua and would rather be on the seat than deputise for somebody. Is that story correct?
You could see that I’d been laughing immediately you started the narration, because I’d heard it too and in different versions. Some even told me with authority as if they were in the room when it happened. I will tell you the true story and I want it reported exactly the way I tell it. I indicated my intention to run for the office of the president in 2006 and so were others. There was Umaru Yar’Adua; there was Peter Odili; there was Achike Udemwa, and there was Sam Egwu – many of us. Umaru came to visit me in Calabar and said let’s work together and I said sure, let’s work together.
To be fair to Umaru, he said to me, ‘you know because of my health, I don’t want to stress myself; if I am being compelled, I’ll like us to work together, because we have a good rapport’. He took the time to fly to Calabar to make this request of me.
Then, couple of weeks later, he made a similar request of me in Abuja and I said but we had agreed. But I had to wind down my campaign. I can’t just go back to my guys and say, ‘hey, I have been offered the position of running mate, I am not running again’ and he agreed. The third time he came, I said are you worried about anything and he said no. That third time, he came with Governor Ibrahim Shema, then Shema was not governor.
Shema and my wife were classmates in Ahmadu Bello University (ABU). I went to ABU too, so, I have known him since ABU. Then I said Umaru, don’t you think we should carry president Obasanjo along on this, because you’re being picked by President Obasanjo doesn’t authorise you to pick other people and he said, ‘but the man likes you’ and I said no. Let’s go to Obasanjo. So, the following morning, we agreed to meet President Obasanjo at 7 am. I got there at 7 am and I was prevented from seeing him, which was very strange.
Then at 9am, they said we were having a meeting somewhere and we all went to the meeting, where Obasanjo formally told all the governors that Umaru was his candidate. I went to Umaru and asked him so what happened to our meeting, he said he will talk to me later. That was the last I heard of it. When we got to the convention, I saw him (Umaru) and Peter Odili walking around. So, folks whispered to me that Peter was the choice. I took it to mean it was Peter, then, last minute Peter was not announced. I tried to see Obasanjo on the matter but I couldn’t see him, and before I knew it, Jonathan was announced.
When eventually when I saw Umaru after he had become president, I asked him what happened, because I knew all manner of water had gone underneath the bridge now, but what happened? He said he met Obasanjo and Obasanjo said no. That we might have conflicts; that you know Donald has very strong opinions; that he didn’t want what happed between him and Atiku.
Then I said ok. That was what happened. But the word on the street was that I said no, I didn’t want him. But people are still surprised that I still keep a good relationship with Obasanjo.
If you want to lead a people, you must be able to work with all and sundry, even those that you know really don’t like you, because you’re learning from them. To lead a people, you have to be able to accommodate all shades and characters otherwise failure is yours. People are not homogenous in temperament and character, so you have to adjust to all these kinds of people. You have to maneuver and bring them together. That’s leadership.
When a shepherd is leading his sheep, he knows the temperament of each one of them. He knows the ones that are lazy and always want to stay behind. So, I will work with everybody. Some of my best friends are in the APC and they know my views about the party. I have spoken to Atiku this morning (last Monday). I am meeting him tomorrow (last Tuesday). We talk because it is not a war. He believes he is the best for Nigeria and so do I. Buhari doesn’t talk to anybody but Osinbajo is one of my closest friends. For me, it’s not a zero-sum game at all.
But truly from the depth of my heart and I wish Umaru were alive, he would corroborate the story. He truly asked me – three times and on the last occasion, Ibrahim Shema was there. He (Shema) is still alive. He will corroborate the story. But Obasanjo jettisoned it. He felt that you should always have a weak deputy. No, in fact, I think you should actually have a strong deputy that respects you, because that deputy could one day become the governor or president. But if you have a weak deputy, who could not tell you the truth, you will always go astray.
My current running mate, Shehu Gabai, I respect him a lot. Shehu will call me and say Oga, I don’t think this is what you should do, very respectfully, even if I disagreed. When I was speaking up against what was happening in the judiciary, he said I should temper it and I said no, I will not, beyond all these, I am a lawyer. I should speak up. But, you see, he gave me his views. Even if I disagreed, at the back of my mind, I knew he had cautioned me, so, if I was going to go all the way, I would hold back a bit. That is what I think the deputy should be. He is your prime adviser. Sometimes, you just charge, but he has the opportunity of looking at your back.
What are your plans for Nigeria or let’s say: what is your manifesto like?
My manifesto is about job creation and wealth creation. That is what encompasses everything. Whether it is in the power sector which I believe it is not a difficult thing to deal with, because in a nation where we are flaring so much gas, you have hydrocarbon – both liquid and gaseous. We have hydro, we have coal, we have solar, we have wind, we have all the sources of energy, yet, we’re energy deficient, because we are doing the same thing over and again. We have not changed from the days of Electricity Company of Nigeria (ECN).
My philosophy is anything that is essential must be local. You will not set up a community where there is no water, because water is essential. If you are at any of the communities that we have all over Nigeria, they have a stream that serves as their source of water, even if the community grows and that stream can no longer feed them, they do borehole because it is essential. Power in modern living is essential and it must be localised. You cannot generate power in Afam and be carrying it to Sokoto; you cannot generate power in Kainji and be carrying it to Calabar.
But we are blessed with gas. We can pipe gas throughout the country, because all these turbines are generators. It’s just that they are big generators. So, if Sokoto has its turbine, if that one collapses, the whole nation is not imperiled. But if Afam collapses, half of the country is in darkness, if Egbin collapses half of the country is in darkness, so anything that is central to human living must be localised.
And by extension education must be very local. Healthcare must be locally available; policing must be local. You cannot have 300,000 people policing 200 million people. You cannot send a Police commissioner from Sokoto to go and do police work in Calabar, it can’t work. He cannot succeed, because he doesn’t know the terrain. Statistically, for every 100 people, you need a police man. Nigerians should have 2 million police men but it is impossible for the federal government to employ 2 million police men and even if they could, it is a wrong policy.
Localise policing. Let the state do it, but some people said the state doesn’t have money and I said yes, they can do it without employing new people, because in e
very public service – state or local – they are over populated. So, you can find 5000 people in state public service and train them on policing duties.
And what is policing duties? Policing duties is 80 per cent information gathering. Only 20 per cent is enforcement and if 80 per cent is information gathering, policing is proactive. It is 20 per cent that is reactive. That’s why within Europe, if a crime is committed within 24 hours they would have caught the person, because they have localised policing. If I am here and I am a police officer, you won’t even know that I am a police officer, but I will know everybody in my neighbourhood and I know what they all do.
In a state like Cross River, I can take 5000 people and in the local government, I can take another 2000 or 3000 people out and train them in policing duties rather than keeping them in the service without doing anything but just collecting salaries. When you are done training them, you can give them small side arms and all they are doing is gathering intelligence. If you live in Victoria Island and you moved to Ikoyi, you have to go and register with the police and they know what you do. So, if a man is living here and he is living a lifestyle that doesn’t fit in, you put him under watch.
Each time there was a terrorist incident in England, you’d find out that the person is under watch but they didn’t think it was severe and in 24 hours, they have caught the person, because they know where everybody is. They have a policing system. The head of security at Kessington Palace, where Prince Harry lives, is a Nigerian. I went to see Prince Michael of Kessington and I met him.
From his name and accent, you could tell he was a Nigerian but from my name he couldn’t tell until I told him I was also a Nigerian and we became friends. Nobody in his neighbourhood knows he is a Police officer. He doesn’t go home with his uniform. When he gets to the office, he goes to the cloak room and wears his uniform but when he goes home, he has to know all his neighbours.
But here, our Policemen wear their uniforms everywhere. There is no thinking in the way we do things. We have been fighting Boko Haram for seven years and we’ve not infiltrated Boko Haram. By now, we should have infiltrated them. That is intelligence gathering. So, what we are doing is reactive. Eighty per cent is intelligence gathering.
Where Seni lives, people know he works with THISDAY. If one day he shows up with Rolls Royce, the police officer will note it. If the worse comes to play, he will notify his people, who then notify the Tax people. Before you know it, the tax people will come and knock at his doors and you don’t know how that happens but somebody is watching you. So, anything in life that is essential must be local.