Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba: It’s Difficult to Zone After People Had Purchased Forms

Since stealthily stomping the presidential race as if he was the one they’ve been waiting for, the former Minister of State for Education, Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, has been described in different terms, such that seek to shift attention to him as a subject of serious interest. A dark house some would like to say, many others see him as one of the favourites of President Muhammadu Buhari. His dispositions however speak even more clearly to his personality. But whichever description suits whomever, Nwajiuba is arguably one of the presidential forces to reckon with, as the party braces up for its much-awaited primaries this weekend. Thus, speaking with THISDAY, he shares some of his plans on how to fix the country if elected president. Excerpts:

What informed your decision to contest the presidency?

There are many people who are interested in helping Nigeria to grow. Anybody that has been in politics like me, since 1992, and can see the trajectory the country is going, would ordinarily offer himself to be part of the workforce that will help Nigeria grow. It is therefore required of us to put ourselves in the service of the country and that is why I am in the race.

You were the first person to pick the APC forms, but you are yet to tell Nigerians your plans for the country. Are you waiting to become the candidate or emerge the president before unfolding your agenda?

There are no plans for Nigerians other than to run the country in the way that it was agreed upon.  Everybody mutually recognises that Nigeria already has a manifesto, which is the Chapter 2 of the Objective Principles of the State Objectives. It states principally that the welfare and security of all Nigerians is paramount. You have said nothing if you now wrote a manifesto to say you want to provide welfare for Nigerians. There is a structure already. I, however, sometimes excuse some people who are not lawyers for not realising that what they were promising actually existed in the country’s constitution. It will also become a problem when you promise to do things that are not constitutional and you were required to swear an oath on the day of inauguration.How therefore, do you hope to implement those plans, if you emerge the President next year?

There are things an aspirant must ask himself, looking at the objective principles of the state. He must ask himself how he hopes to implement his plans. For someone like me, who probably, is the only Nigerian who has the proper knowledge of the workings of the three arms of government, because my first, second and third degrees are in Law, I have been called to be a Minister in the temple of justice, as a lawyer. So, I am a judicial worker. I have also gone into the legislature since 1999 before I moved from there to the executive. The three arms of government are my domain. It would be very hard to find somebody who has that compass. 

 That in itself, equipped me to appreciate what it is that we need to do. Economically, Nigeria needs to move an inch further, from where it is at the moment, because the social infrastructure that governs how people operate in the economic space, is a ticking time bomb, because we don’t have adequate manpower.  There is a disconnect between the fact that we have almost 116 abandoned industries in northern Nigeria and a complete workforce that cannot be integrated. Right from 1992 when I started to oppose privatisation, I did point out that the objective of government cannot necessarily be to raise money. The first objective is to have social and economic welfare. The only way that could be done is not by stripping off the country of its assets.

We may not necessarily have a government run a business. I brought up a model in 1992, which was rejected then, but which is still very relevant now. I recommended a government enterprise, which must be run by those who must keep it in production. The only condition to own the Aladja Steel Plant, the Iwopin Paper Plant, Jebba Mill, Katsina Steel Rolling, Jos Steel Rolling Mill, Ikot-Ekpene Aluminum Roofing Mill, and other government-owned enterprises – scattered all over the country, which are just too many, is to ensure that they are operational, optimally. 

Those who have the capabilities of running those institutions should be allowed to take them over on one condition that Nigerians must be employed there, and they must be at a level of production. They must not have power to sell off any of the assets. That should be for the benefits of Nigerians, because if our people are working, there would be a tax net that would generate revenue to run a country.  Right now, it is a complete disconnect, whereby everybody is looking for foreign exchange to bring in goods to feed the people, who are not generating revenue. It is that type of economic conceptualisation that I am bringing to the table.

Nigerians and the international community are worried about the growing, frightening insecurity in the country. How do you intend to address this menace?

There are three foundations of insecurity. The first is feelings. That is, how people feel about their country. When people feel wrong and disconnected from the system, the security or the intelligence institutions can’t be possibly aided but would rather aid the terrorists above their own institution, because they don’t feel that they are part of the institution.  The second is around the North-East and North-West zones. There were children, who were 10 years old, when democracy started in 1999, who didn’t have any school attendance but are now grown-up adults. This happened because Nigeria was running a conservative government up to the first part of 2015.

The progressives only took over power in 2015. The whole idea of social inclusion is the creation of this government. It has not taken root at all. Without social inclusion, and you have a 10-year-old child, who was abandoned and left without education, he would be 25 after 15 years. How do we expect such a person to participate in the economy?  At one point, Zamfara State was declared a Sharia state in the days of Ahmed Rufai Yerima. I’m happy he also purchased a nomination form, people need to know that there are consequences for their actions taken 20 years ago. Some gangs of bandits living in the bush were suddenly manufactured. They have nothing to contribute to the economy. They cannot be kept as urchins forever, because they have grown and they would need food.

They would need to work and participate in growing the economy. President Muhammadu Buhari promised to lift 100 million people out of poverty in 10 years. He planned to do so by making people to be numerated, literate and skilled to participate in the economy. This is why we have the alternate schools’ programme to have an inclusive system of education. The arrangement would reduce drastically the number of those that fuel that combat, which is the basis for insecurity. If such huge numbers don’t exist anymore, you will have people within the economy, who are happy with the system. Those people became disenchanted.

I’m bringing to the table as President, 90 per cent satisfaction of its demographic. My candidacy will appeal to young people, since I’m 55 years old. The second aspect is that people believe that power should rotate to the South now. No other place apart from the South-East, that has not produced a President since 1999. My emergence will also assuage the feelings of those agitating. Above all, Nigerians are looking for someone, who is extremely dexterous for the kind of problems that we have now. People have over the years checked all the elements required of a good leader.  One who is learned and who has had education, proper experience and a product of the society he wants to lead.

I am a product of public universities having had my first degree at the Imo State University, second one at the University of Lagos and the third at the University of Jos. I have done everything here. I don’t live abroad. We also need someone, who has the gamut of experience across all the divides.  I have been part of the judiciary, legislature and the executive. You have everything you would possibly need in a Nigerian leader in me. People want to know whether you have capabilities and competence. That is what my being in the Ministry of Education in the last three years has shown. I came in as Chairman of TetFund, which is the largest money organisation in Nigeria and I ran it properly. For the first time, all the universities were getting their allocations on time at the highest value since it started. I came into the Ministry of Education and took up all the programmes that we agreed on. For instance, the reduction of the out-of-school children and expanded access to tertiary education. We have in the last seven years established more polytechnics, colleges of education, and universities.

But how do you intend to handle Nigeria’s socio-economic and political challenges as president, when you were unable to resolve the ASUU crisis, as a minister of state for Education? How will you explain that in your campaign?

That is terrific.  ASUU’s problems are not difficult ones to resolve. It is a problem within a context.  If you want to solve the ASUU problems, you must step away from the context.  You cannot be doing the same thing and expect different results. However, in the last three years that I came into the Ministry, I made stakeholders look at the paradigm. ASUU has been going on strike since 1984. So, unless you change that format, it would also happen because the issues that ASUU is canvassing are completely legitimate. They are completely needed things. But in the context in which they are asking for them, they cannot be resolved.

ASUU wanted the best for the universities established by the federal government, where they are employed. ASUU is demanding proper funding, improvement of infrastructure, upgraded facilities, do NEEDS assessments. They are demanding earn allowances and so on. All the demands are good. However, the resources are not there. There are no endowments in our universities unlike the situation in foreign countries. The funding mechanisms for Nigerian universities need to be altered and shifted from what we have now. The budgeting system for running universities cannot work. A system whereby applications are sent to the office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, when new lecturers are to be employed, while the ministries of labour and finance are carried along, cannot continue to work.

What I proposed is that universities be granted full autonomy so that they could actually be autonomous. If we pay the money ASUU is demanding today, who will give them tomorrow? People say I agree with ASUU too much; it is because my own children are all in public universities in Nigeria. I am a product of public universities here. My wife is also a product of public universities here. Two of my children have graduated and are working. One, a civil engineer, the other, a lawyer. They both graduated from public universities in Nigeria. I still have two presently studying in public universities here. They are also at home now, eating plenty of my food.

The last-born is about to gain admission into a public university. So, I know the ASUU crisis needs to be solved. I’m only saying that ASUU should not be on strike, because the whole essence of our investment in education is not for decoration but for the production of manpower for the country. As long as ASUU is on strike on  account that we’ve not built new structures, accepted UTAS, and paid earn allowances,  by the time we pay that money, the children would have already suffered a huge loss. We don’t need a strike.  ASUU does not need to be on strike to resolve its demands or requests.APC has failed to micro-zone the presidency to the South-East, an action that might have affected the possibility of an Igbo president in 2023. How do you feel?

Truth be told, I am positive that most Nigerians want a good country.  Everybody believes in a moral society. People actually want some law and order. Some level of rule-based society.  What I’m bringing to the table is national cohesion for development. Without a cohesive society, we can’t make progress. Nigerians at the moment are dissipating energies over everything. However, since the constitution of our country agrees to the principles of federal character, where governance must be run with some level of inclusion, and must be on display at all times, people need to trust Nigerians to take the decision.  Anybody in Nigeria would like to see a competent man or woman, who has the character, capacity, capabilities to lead the country.  Arriving at a consensus for me, will not be difficult at all. We don’t need a micro zone. There were only 24 people who purchased the forms, when we expected about 100 people in the race.
Curiously, some of your former cabinet members are already pulling out of the contest.

Yes, maybe because they did not study the time frame very well. I don’t know whether they had certain other interpretations around it. Some may not have had enough funds to pay for the forms. About 3,816 people contributed the money, which I used to buy my own form and I’ve published their names. People contributed between N5, 000 and N500,000 each within two weeks across the country. So, if we are going to build a consensus around the 24 aspirants, we will then talk about the location. Nobody zoned the positions before people started purchasing the forms. So, you cannot zone after they had purchased the forms. It is from the people who are now available that you will look at what each aspirant is bringing to the table and how best would they solve Nigeria’s problems. There are those who meant well but are  being challenged by the age factor like the former Senate President, Ken Nnamani. He is a lovely person who has the interest of Nigerians at heart but he may not be as strong as he used to be when he was in government. So, you must excuse him.

The same thing applies to Ogbonnaya Onu, who also has the challenge of age. They are good men. We also have younger elements like the Governor of Kogi State, who is very agile and in his 40s, but he has not garnered a nationalistic experience yet. He must be given room to grow.  There are many constraints for different aspirants. We need somebody who has the empathy, the energy, the enthusiasm and exact understanding of the experiences and knowledge that are required. You may be a smart person in your 60s, but the knowledge of the economy has moved beyond your era. You might have governed Lagos State before; but those people you trained are also doing fantastic. That then, did not make the knowledge resident in only you. You could have great leaders like Asiwaju Tinubu or men like Ibikunle Amosun, even Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, who by their nature are very nice persons, but might not be suitable for the work plan now.

Why are you not consulting your party’s delegates, like many of your colleagues are currently doing? Is it because you’re Buhari’s political son and waiting for him to pronounce you as a consensus candidate?

Any one saying that I am not meeting with the delegates is a liar, because I’ve met with the most delegates. I’m the organiser of the forum of former members of the House of Representatives, which constitutes 32 per cent of the entire delegate structure. Over the years, even before I became minister, I’ve been hosting them regularly.  Many of them even contributed their own money for my ticket. The structure of my campaigns is headed by former and serving senators. Everybody is working from the experience he or she had.  In every state, I have the Local Working Committees that have been working. They are made up of local government chairmen, secretaries of the party, and some statutory delegates.  It is their job to fish out the delegates and speak with them.

My job is to organise the country. We have five delegates from each ward including the chairman and the secretary. One of the remaining three delegates must be a woman. We were already a factor in every polling unit before the election started. That is how we think in modern times. If you like, buy two aircraft and criss-crossing the country, once you leave your destination, other people will go and dine there. That is not how politics is done. We don’t need to do dollar bazaar on the day of the presidential convention. We don’t want the bandits to come and attack us like they did the last time, when they attacked the train going to Kaduna, because the bandits thought they were delegates, who had come to Abuja to collect dollars. If we insist on bringing everybody here and cause a naira rain in Abuja, how will the poor people survive?Do you honestly believe that your party is interested in ceding power to the South East? There are indications that your party wants to retain power in the North.

There are three people from the North, who purchased the APC presidential forms.  The President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan;  the Governor of Kogi State, Yahaya Bello; and the Governor of Jigawa State,  Abubakar Mohammed Badaru. They all have the right credentials to be Nigeria’s president. They are men of foresight. They are from the North -East, North-Central and North-West. They are possibly in the contest to make a statement but if we are talking about national justice and fairness, we should only be thinking of the South-East. This is because it is the only zone in the South that had not produced a President since 1999. 

However, for them to be seeing about eight people from the South-West suddenly laying claims to the same argument they had against the North, makes it look very silly.  This is because you cannot be accusing the North of something you are also perpetrating. Olusegun Obasanjo had been president for eight years; Osinbajo has been vice president since 2015. Why should the South-West say the North should cede power to the South and that they must be the beneficiary? How does that make any sense of any type?  Yet, they are asking the young patriots in the North to cede power to them. I am sure if the South-West pulls out of the presidential race, aspirants from the North would also rest their ambitions and allow the South-East to produce Buhari’s successor in 2023.

Some politicians are saying if power won’t go to the South-East, it should remain in the North. Do you agree with them?

I’ve heard the argument also, but it is defeatist. Senator Orji Uzor Kalu has said so to justify his support for Lawan. What those who are saying this meant was that the presidency should go to the South-East. They are just using different languages to say that Igbo should produce the next president.Aren’t you worried about the insecurity in the South-East, because with the situation in the zone now, free and fair elections are unlikely?

We will not have the same situation we have now in 2023, because so many things would have happened. Human beings are a product of their social engagements. The day you engage any aggrieved person, he gets included.  Power is for everyone. The day a south-eastern person is the candidate of our party, everybody in the region will participate massively. There were elections in the Boko Haram territories during the 2015 general election.

Why are you confident that your party will win the next election? Don’t you know that Nigerians are not happy with your government?

Nigerians are not happy with what they don’t understand.  That is the whole nature of man because our psychology works with knowing something, understanding it and appreciating it. Too many people are still out of the food belt. Too many people are not achieving what they want to achieve. Too many people are not engaging government sufficiently because the state governments where all of these reside, have a limited purview of what it is that they are accountable to their people for. Everybody looks up to the federal government. The first thing is to return to productivity so that naira will appreciate against the dollar. If our people are angry, the right thing to do would not be to abandon the progressive work that we have already done, but to bring them hope through people they can identify with. Nigerians are not happy with moneybags whom they believed caused part of their problems.

 President Buhari at inception, promised to fight corruption but indices from respected local and international organisations indicated that Buhari’s administration stinks; that corruption is more predominant in Nigeria today than ever seen. What happened?

Corruption in Nigeria has been a long hub. We started the fight against corruption, when we came into power but it cannot end in one day. We first of all implemented systematic programmes that can curb corruption like the Treasury Single Account. We also enforced the BVN. The policies had always been in place but were not implemented. The entire system of recovering or stealing money, depends on how the system works. The systematic leakages are what fuels corruption. We are running a cash-based economy, which apart from fuelling corruption, is also fuelling insecurity.  None of the transactions for bullets and guns are done through the banks but in cash. It is also fuelling the drug trade.

The more the drugs are in the system, the more the bandits would buy. It is a holistic system. It is now dangerous to abandon the work we had already done because we need to build on it. If we bring in someone who was not part of the foundation that built it, the person won’t know what we’ve done and will fail. That was what happened in the case of the late President Umaru Musa-Yar’Adua, who started reviewing everything his predecessor, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, had done. The development caused Nigeria to lose over $16 billion that was invested in power and cancelled all privatised refineries.

Looking at the scorecard, do you agree that your government has failed woefully?

Well, anybody who tells you that nothing has changed has not read the script very well. In the last five years alone, the total number of Nigerians that has access to the grid has increased by 22.5 per cent. We’ve introduced cash transfer, and broadened access to healthcare facilities. The indices are there. The country did not make more money, in fact, the money reduced. However, the management of our economy increased tremendously, because we don’t owe civil servants their salaries any more. We don’t borrow money to pay them unlike what we experienced during the last administration.  The country had never achieved 45 per cent budget performance until we took over in 2015. Budget performance has exceeded 82 per cent performance on the average in the last five years. It is a fact that the economy has expanded and many people are playing active roles than it was in 2015. Therefore, what is available is less. The economy expanded with the same resources and same infrastructural contents.

But, it’s on record that the current government has borrowed more money running into trillions of naira, yet, not enough is on the ground to justify the huge loans.

Eighty per cent of the money borrowed by the government is for railway services and we’ve built the largest railway network in the history of Nigeria in the last five years. Itakpe, Ibadan, Kaduna rail lines are working. We came on mass revolution.But your government was not the originator of these projects. Some of these projects were being executed before the Buhari-led government came on board.

Yes, but we have to borrow the money to do them. Do you want me to become president tomorrow and choose not to live inside the Presidential Villa, because I wasn’t the one that originated its concept? The country belongs to the people more than the people who are in power. We are doing everything for Nigerians. We designed the Second Niger Bridge since my days in the House of Representatives. It was to cost N120bn. We never knew somebody could come and negotiate it downward, we negotiated the price and have completed it now. Babatunde Fashola has done 25, 000 kilometers of road in the last seven years. We don’t have the resources to do all these, that is why we are bringing in money to execute them. The idea of TSA and BVN were not conceived by Buhari, it was conceived by the Yar’Adua administration and inherited by Goodluck Jonathan. Yet, Buhari insisted that we would implement them. It is not about conception but delivery. Look at the Goodluck Jonathan Expressway in Abuja that was named after a former president, which Buhari has completed now. Other presidents would have abandoned it because it was named after a leader they defeated.

 But monies were being put into the projects before your administration came on board.

There was zero amount in the FCT budget for that project. I have copies of the FCT budgets over the past 20 years.

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