The Presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for the 2023 election, Atiku Abubakar, was a guest on The Morning Show of Arise News Channel at the weekend. While fielding questions from the Arise News team, Abubakar addressed issues bordering on party’s current crisis and prospects in the 2023 general election, particularly, following the grievances Governor Nyesom Wike and others have against him. Also, the former vice president spoke on other pertinent issues relating to the economy, insecurity and unity of Nigeria. Emmanuel Addeh presents the excerpts
How do you feel being a veteran candidate? You’ve been in this business since 1992 and you are here again in 2023 as the presidential standard bearer of the PDP. What gives you the confidence that you will succeed this time?
I may have to take you back to my political journey or political history. If you recall, even when I was trying to run to be the governor of my state, from the old Gongola, now Adamawa state, I ran four times before eventually I was elected as a governor and then never served before becoming vice president.
I am driven by the passion and the desire to give back to this country or my society for what this country has done for me because if I were to be born around this time, I don’t think I would have been that fortunate, that likely to become what I have become today.
So, I am more or less driven by the passion to give back to society because this society or this country has done so much for me. So, this is it. Therefore, it is not a new thing, either in politics or even in history, we have several leaders all over the world, who have made attempts to serve their country. One of the greatest presidents in American history is Abraham Lincoln and he is somebody who ran up to five to six times before becoming the president of the United States. At this age and with what I’ve been able to accomplish, I don’t think I desire anything more than the passion to serve my country and my fellow countrymen and women.
So, this is the driving force behind my persistence and desire to serve my country and its people.
Why did you choose Governor Ifeanyi Okowa as your running mate over Governor Nyesom Wike and how do you plan to unify your party so that Wike and his supporters can get behind your candidacy?
I also want you to recollect that I have contested this presidency a couple of times and anytime I lost, I did not try to blame anybody. I will, first of all, carry my grievances through the court of law up to the Supreme Court. Whenever the Supreme Court decides, I accept and then I move on and I plan for the future.
So first and foremost, I don’t think Wike was rejected. Nobody was rejected at the party.
But the point that you must understand is that it is the prerogative of the candidate to pick his running mate that he believes he can work with amicably and then also deliver on all the policies of the party and also try to unify the country.
If you can go through history, I was given a ticket in 2007, I picked an easterner, and I was given a ticket in 2019. I picked an Igbo and in 2022, I have been given the ticket and I picked an Igbo man. This is just to show you my desire to unify the country.
Governor Wike is a brilliant politician, courageous and tenacious. I believe he has a future in the political evolution of this country, so it is not a question of rejection. Certainly not. I think it is too harsh a word to say. Certainly not.
Okay, I’d like to ask a follow-up question. There’s the report that Wike was the choice of about 10 persons out of 17, but then that you jettisoned the report. So do you think he is irrelevant or inconsequential to your ticket?
You should be fair to me. You should also state the facts. We are reaching out to Governor Wike and we are talking with him. And I believe very soon, we will find reconciliation. Very soon, because we are talking to him and talking to his colleagues, governor colleagues, and I am very, very optimistic that we are going to resolve our internal crisis and move on.
So, are you saying Governor Samuel Ortom lied to the public?
What he gave was inaccurate. I can give you a copy of the report that was sent to me. There was no voting and there was no record of any vote. Not!
You have expressed your consistent preference for running mates from the South-east, but the agitation initially was that the presidency will be micro-zoned to the South-east…
No, it is not correct. There was nothing like that in PDP.
But you are aware that there was a general agitation?
Agitation is different from a decision to micro-zone. PDP has never sat down as a party to micro-zone any position. Yes, we have said there should be a rotation between North and South as far as the presidency and also key officers of the party, as well as government positions, are concerned. I mean, we started it.
We brought that into our constitution, not any other. Any other party is just following what we initiated. So we have never micro-zoned any position to any part of this country. It has always been between North and South. Of course, there has been agitation from the South-east, you know, because since the return of democracy they have not produced the president nor have they produced the vice president.
That is of course legitimate, but in politics, you will negotiate power. You will negotiate power through negotiations, not through coercion, not through force. That’s why it is called politics.
So, the negotiations of the South-east were not successful this time as well? That’s why Peter Obi left the PDP and joined another party and he is also running for president. How do you think this will affect your prospects given that the Southeast has always been such a safe zone for the PDP?
I don’t expect, you know, the Labour Party to take as many votes from the PDP as people are suggesting. You could have seen it in the last elections in Osun state? What is the performance of the Labour Party? This is a party that doesn’t have a governor and doesn’t have members of the National Assembly or the state assembly members. Politics in this country depends on the structures you have at these various levels, at the local government level, at the state level and the national level. So it is very, very difficult to expect a miracle to happen, you know, simply because Peter Obi is in the Labour Party. After all, they were saying through social media that they have more than one million votes in Osun State. But what was the turnout or votes for the Labour Party?
And then again, mark you, you’re talking about social media. In the North, 90 per cent of our people are not on social media.
One of the reasons put forward by former governor of Ekiti State, Ayo Fayose, for his grievance is that Section 3C of the PDP constitution is very clear about rotation, about zoning. Apart from this, a group or several groups within the PDP are also saying that the chairman of the party, Senator Iyorchia Ayu, should step down. That is a matter of honour because he made the promise that he will step down if the PDP candidate comes from the North.
It is not the first time we have found ourselves in this position that the PDP has found itself. But there is a difference. If the elected president is from the North and the party chairman happens to also be from the North, automatically, the party chairman will revert to the South. So he is reading the provision of section 3 of our constitution upside down. We had it before.
We have gone through this before. This is not the first time. When the President and the party chairman happen to be from the same zone, automatically, the chairman reverts to the other zones of the country. So that’s incorrect. And the second part of your question was about Senator Ayu stepping down.
If today I’m elected president, automatically, Senator Ayu steps down. We had a meeting in the Northern zone, of all the stakeholders on the issue of Senator Ayu and also the chairman of the Board of Trustees.
On the issue of a Muslim-Muslim ticket, that was my fundamental disagreement and departure politically from Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. Remember, I came out on PDP on the issue of zoning and together with Asiwaju, we formed the CAN. I was given a ticket in Lagos and he insisted to be my running mate. And I said, no, I’m not going to have a Muslim-Muslim ticket. And because of that, he switched support to the late Umar Yar’Adua. That was the parting point. And of course, it is also a fact that when Buhari emerged in 2015 in Lagos, I opposed a Muslim-Muslim ticket. I opposed it and my opposition reinforced the decision of President Buhari to pick his running mate.
So I have all along opposed that. I don’t believe in that. I do believe it’s right for a country like Nigeria, a multi-ethnic, multi-religious country to balance interests, whether religious or otherwise.
What is your assessment of your prospects in the North-east because the APC running mate comes from the North-east?
Certainly, my prospects are much. I think it’s an unfair question to ask me because I know that my prospects are much higher. I mean, if you know the composition of the North-east, you have Borno and Yobe which are essentially two Kanuri states, and then you have the other states which are essentially also Fulani states.
So even if people are going to vote based on that, I think, I have a more favourable position in the North-east.
In 2007, the two of you, Asiwaju and you, were together in the Action Congress of Nigeria and the two of you are friends. So how do you feel running against a man, who is considered your ally because people are already saying there is no difference between the two of them. Then on RUGA, can you speak on your opposition to open grazing?
First, of all, grazing or no grazing is not a central issue. I have more than 1000 herds of cattle, they have never gone beyond Adamawa State. So as far as I’m concerned, it is a regional or state issue. This is the fact of the case. So people are at liberty to take whatever measures in terms of law, either for anti-grazing or anti-grazing as far as I’m concerned, and I don’t think the federal government should have anything to do with it.
And I believe that was even what used to happen even in the First Republic. Yes, in the First Republic, there was grazing in the northern region because we used to have grazing reserves in the Northern region, but then the region became split into states. And it is therefore the responsibility of the states. It is a concurrent issue even in our constitution. I don’t think we should try to bring about either legislation or changes at the national level.
How about you and Asiwaju Bola Tinubu being allies?
That doesn’t mean we will not have political differences. We have been having political differences ever since we became friends. Nothing unusual about that.
Insecurity is another big concern in the country right now. Islamic extremists like Boko Haram, and ISWAP, and then in the South-east, you have secessionist agitation, you have those enforcing stay-at-home orders every Monday.
You have to give every part of this country a sense of belonging. I was arguing before a top government official, I said, how come and this is common knowledge to most of the media houses, that we have 17 security outfits in this country, and all of them are being headed by one section of the country? That’s imbalance! So, how are you going to expect people not to protest? Secondly, there is an insufficient number of law enforcement agencies on the streets.
I’ll give you examples: Nigeria has over 200 million people population and less than 300,000 policemen. There has to be massive recruitment of Nigerians into the police. Not only massive recruitment, but training and equipping and then every part of this country has to be given a sense of belonging.
I am also a supporter of state police, county police, etc. We need to review that in our constitution and make sure we provide for levels of police. When I was growing up, we had local police and there was law and order. But here we are with the Nigeria Police. The same policy will be deployed in Sierra Leone, in Liberia, West Africa, but because he was trained by international organisations, he performs well with less centralisation of the police. And then, of course, there must be an increase in the number of policemen on the streets.
And then thirdly, they must be well trained and well equipped to deal with our security challenges. It’s something we can do.
Well, let’s talk about your manifesto. It looks like the subject of removal of subsidies is conspicuously absent in that manifesto. Is this an oversight?
It’s not an oversight, but I thought Nigerians have now come to accept my position on this issue. When I was vice president, we designed subsidy removal in four stages. And I was chairman of the subsidy removal committee.
At that time I worked very closely with former Governor Adams Oshiomhole, who was the president of the NLC and we removed subsidy phase one and phase two. By the time we finished phase two, we had left office and expected the next PDP government under late Umar Yar’Adua to continue phase two and phase three. But unfortunately, the policy got stuck for one reason or the other, I don’t know because I had left the government. I think it is inevitable, that it has to happen. Recall that when we did phase one and phase two, the NLC made demands on the issue of transportation, on the issue of allowances, and an increase in wages, which we met.
So, I believe, again, the organised labour and also other sectors of the economy, that policy should resume and be completed.
Let’s talk some more about your economic agenda outlined in your manifesto “My Covenant with Nigerians”. Exactly how do you plan to break the government monopoly of infrastructure which you mentioned in your manifesto to give private investors a larger role? And also you referred to the current interventionist management of exchange rates. What would you plan to do differently? What are you promising Nigerians with regards to the exchange rate?
The exchange rate is a CBN policy. I am not expected to interfere. But what I expect to see is that I expect to see a convergence of the CBN exchange rate and that of the parallel market because I am a market-oriented person. I believe in the forces of the market.
How about government monopoly and infrastructure?
We had started reforms which were initiated by me as the chairman of the privatisation council, the telecoms reforms, oil sector reforms, the pensions reforms, and so on. So all these reforms were reforms that we initiated and some of them were accomplished during our administration. And what we intend to do is continue the reforms, you know, the various sectors of the economy, whereby we can give the private sector more leeway, tax incentives until they recover the investment and some interest. Otherwise, where are you going to get the money from if you don’t encourage the private sector to come in?
Yesterday (Thursday), the national power grid of Nigeria collapsed to the point of zero output, the sixth this year. On your Twitter account, you tweeted, “This is one collapse too many”. But there was an immediate response from Omoyele Sowore that the electrical grid collapse started when you invested $16 billion to procure darkness for Nigeria.
He has all along lived outside this country. He doesn’t even know the policy implementation or even the policy initiative. When we came in, the generation was about 4,000 megawatts. We initiated the building of nine additional power stations.
By the time those nine were finished, the capacity had gone from 4,000 to about 13,000 megawatts. Unfortunately, there was no corresponding increase as far as transmission lines are concerned. These additional nine power stations were completed by Goodluck Jonathan. Yar’Adua was on it, he died and Jonathan continued and completed them. That’s why anytime there is an increase in power generation, the transmission system cannot evacuate the power, then it will collapse.
So he doesn’t even know because he lives outside this country. He comes to Nigeria every four years and contests for the presidency and goes back. He fails and goes back again. So, what does Sowore know about power? Nothing, absolutely nothing.
What do you intend to do differently if you were to become president?
Let me give you a story. What I tried to do in our administration: I went to the president and I said, Mr. President, let us decentralise both generation and transmission. Let’s use various sources of power, hydro, solar, and even coal because we are still a developing country.
I said gas is going to be a problem for us because gas is only available in one location and then it will take us a long time to have a gas plant that will supply the whole of this country with electricity and by the time you do that, you will find that the electricity you are generating is too heavy for our transmission.
But when you decentralise generation, in my zone like the North-east, we have two mini dams idling. If you go to be North-west, they also have many large dams idling already. You need to install turbines and then generate electricity If you go to the South-south, then you can use whatever form of energy that is available, whether it is gas, hydro, or even coal. After all, the entire eastern region was supplied by coal from Enugu at that time.
But we had a divergence or disagreement as far as that issue was concerned. He said we must go on gas. That was how we started the gas generating plants’ additional lines. So I still believe it is something the country can consider to diversify our generation. So that even with our current transmission lines, we can deliver power to households and everybody. It’s a question of reviewing the policy.
You’ve described the unveiling of NNPC limited as a step in the right direction. What exactly is your vision for NNPC?
My vision for the NNPC is the same position we have for the NLNG. We privatise it substantially, then go to the private sector and the stock market whereby as many Nigerians as possible can acquire shares and this will improve transparency, and efficiency and also wipe out corruption and also increase profitability and sustainability.
Yes, the government has announced privatising the NNPC, but a lot needs to be done because it looks like it is being done secretly. In other words, nobody, Nigerians, and other members of the international community have not seen it transparently. If you ask me honestly, I do not know how it’s being done and by whom, and what’s the scope of the privatisation. How much is being privatised or how much is being retained by the government?
I recall that when we were in office, I invited some oil multinationals’ chief executives and asked for their advice to raise cash for the government. They said if you sell just a 10 per cent stake of $30-35 billion to the international community, you are going to have all the money to build all the roads and all the infrastructure that you need.
And you would have also increased efficiency for the oil company and of course, I proposed to the president then and then of course that was not accepted. So, I believe that just like Saudi Aramco has done in raising so much money for Saudi Arabia to invest in their 2030 programmes, and that is the kind of thing that I expected to see, but that is not what we are seeing, we are seeing a very secretive transaction conducted by the government and I don’t see any element of transparency there.
We have seen the transparency that accompanied Saudi Aramco’s partial privatisation. We have seen how much money was raised and so on. We are yet to see our own. Maybe we haven’t got to that stage. I don’t know.
I am surprised you say the process has been secretive, because the Group CEO of the new company, in all the statements, has been talking about transparency. He says NNPC will not just be transparent, but it will be naked. So, what will you do differently in terms of reform in the oil and gas sector? The second issue with this NNPC is the concern of the state governments. It says it will no longer be remitting federal allocation, determining subsidies and that they are only interested in profit and loss paid to shareholders. Where will the interest of the governors come in?
I must be honest with you, I am blank because other than the announcements made by the NNPC or whoever, I have not seen the state governments or the oil-producing areas being taken into account in the process that is currently going on.
So, if you become President, what happens?
I am not going to reverse it but what I would do is open it up. In other words, whoever has a stake will be part of this process. I don’t see that happening at the moment. I only read announcements from the NNPC. That’s all.
We also have this country’s challenges with oil theft and vandalism. How would you address these?
This is where you must bring in the security agencies from the naval forces to all the security agencies that have been set up for securing all these oil installations and oil infrastructure. I think everybody is there to do whatever he or she likes without coordination and supervision and leadership.
Like this administration, you’ve also been quoted as promising that you will lift about 10 million people out of poverty. People say it’s the same old story.
Oil only accounts for about 20 per cent of our GDP. You must pay attention to agriculture. Agriculture is the mainstay of the economy, you have to promote industrialisation and manufacturing. If you do that, you are going to raise as many millions out of poverty.
How do you envision Nigeria without oil?
We need the proceeds of crude oil to diversify our economy. But a time will come when we won’t have a drop of crude oil. By that time we would have diversified the economy.
What’s your vision for developing the educational sector and health and some of your critics query your attraction to Dubai?
There is no fixation on Dubai, it is just the handwork of the media. Yes, I was in Dubai during the COVID and I used the period to do my masters and that was the longest I stayed in Dubai, otherwise, I have never stayed in Dubai for more than one month. So, the fixation is a creation of the media and political opponents.
Of course, you must have heard that I invest heavily in education, simply because it’s my passion. I believe in education. I believe we need the private sector in both education and health.
If you live in Lagos, you will notice that most of the health facilities are provided by the private sector. How many people go to government clinics or health centers? Recall also, that most of our universities are private sector-led. They don’t go on strike.
It is about leadership. You elect an analog leadership, you expect analog management of all aspects of your national life. If it’s business, I started the business when I was 16 or 17, if it’s education, I am in it, if it’s agriculture or industry, I have invested in it.
Constitutional reform is a legislative exercise, but the executive wields great influence. How would you use yours to devolve power?
I will do it because I will summon the governors and I will tell them these are the powers I want to be devolved to the states. So, they shouldn’t stop their state assemblies from passing constitutional amendments. And I want to see a very lean federal government.
In terms of welfare what will be the content of that initiative for the police?
Before it was traditionally seen that accommodation is provided for our security agencies. You don’t see that now. You see allowances not being paid to them and even when they lose their lives, their families are not catered for. I intend to set up a very high-power-powered committee to look into this without any further delay.
Earlier on, you talked about a lean government. How are you going to achieve this?
I want to rationalise the agencies. They are just too many duplicating responsibilities. I want to introduce e-government. Once you introduce this, you will eliminate waste. I know it’s not popular, but I will do it.
How much faith do you have in INEC and the new electoral framework?
So far so good. INEC has done well so far. Of course, these are off-season elections, so they are isolated. So, it’s much easier to conduct. Let’s see what happens when we have nationwide elections. But if the off-season elections are anything to go by, we have seen improvement in the performance of INEC.
Does Nigeria have a debt problem or a revenue problem? How do you tackle those problems?
On the issue of debt, of course, there are several ways we can approach it. Either through restructuring; unfortunately, we don’t have any more schemes for debt forgiveness. For sure, we have to deal with these issues because we are going to inherit a deeply indebted government and we have also not expanded the revenue base as such.
So let’s go back to the issue of your choice of running mate. How much is Governor Ifeanyi Okowa bringing to the table and would you have chosen Peter Obi a second time as your running mate if he hadn’t left PDP?
This (Okowa) is a very brilliant guy. He started his political career in local government, from local government to a commissioner, from a commissioner to a senator, then to a governor. So in terms of all political parameters, he has the experience which matters quite a lot.
I announced in my statement that I am seeking a vice president, who from day one can be a president. He’s intellectually brilliant. So these are some of the reasons why I picked him.
So you don’t miss Peter Obi?
They are two different people. Not that I don’t miss Peter Obi, but unfortunately Peter did not consult me. Suddenly, I heard he had announced his exit. I think he informed me only three days after he declared for a labour party.
You just outlined for us some of the sectors that you’re involved with, yet the perception of corruption lingers in some minds. Can you dispel that perception?
I have challenged the people of this country over and over again that if they have got any corruption case against me they should please bring it up. Yes, I was accused of corruption, just like any other person in public office and I was investigated and nothing was found. So, what else do you want me to do?
The question they are asking is that you are considered one of the wealthiest people in Nigeria.They want to know where is that wealth coming from, because you were a public officer, and they say how did you become so wealthy?
Unfortunately, the fact that you are a public officer does not stop you from engaging in business. I was telling someone that the very first day that I resumed duty at Idiroko station, I was not even married, but what I realised was that one of the most lucrative business ventures then was buying a Peugeot 404 and conveying passengers between Lagos and Cotonou or Porto Novo.
As a young man, I walked into this place in Apapa, signed a hire purchase form for them, and was making my money. So, I have been doing business from day one.
You mean as a public officer, you were doing business?
There was no conflict of interest. The fact that you are a public officer doesn’t stop you from engaging in a legitimate business. There is no law like that.
In 2019, you went to Ota to consult with your former boss, Olusegun Obasanjo. This time around, nobody has seen you do that. Do you have his blessings this time around? Have you been talking to him?
I have been talking to him. The only thing is that I didn’t go after I emerged as the candidate of the PDP. That’s all.
But do you have his support or you don’t need it?
Why would I not need his support? He’s my former boss. Of course, I will need his support.
Do you have it?
I assume I have it.
You are not sure?
Why not? If he’s going to support anyone, it should be me, because I have his legacies to continue.