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PETER OBI: We Must End the Sharing Mentality

PETER OBI: We Must End the Sharing Mentality

Former Anambra State Governor and presidential candidate of the Labour Party (LP) insists that the story of Nigeria will change the moment we begin to run the country based on the productive capacity of the people   

Why do you want to be president?

It’s a very simple thing. If you look at Nigeria today, all of you, everybody here, I don’t need to tell you how bad things are. It’s well known to you and all of you are endangered. I was speaking to a group in Ikoyi, and I said people in Ikoyi think that everything’s okay. I reminded them that when crisis starts, they are not immune. ‘Whether you’re in government, or you’re not or you are part of the problem or not, we will all become a victim of the situation,’ I told them. In recent days, I have asked several people, ‘where are you going to spend your Christmas?’ and they respond that its Abuja or Lagos. Nobody is travelling to the village anymore. So, it has reached a stage where people get in from the United States or United Kingdom and stop at Abuja or Lagos. That is an indication of the level of crisis we face in Nigeria today. So, for me the issue is how to turn around the situation, starting with the issue of security of life and property. We will stop the rascality of frittering public resources and with that you create the enabling environment that will bring foreign direct investment. We will start investing government resources in key development areas because the development of any nation is hinged on human development index. Healthcare will be taken seriously. In terms of life expectancy, you know, in our country today, while the global average is 72.8, we’re at 55. Today, according to our own National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), we have 133 million people living in poverty. These are the reasons I feel we should come and change the situation and deal with these challenges.

You have highlighted the issue of human capital so in specific terms, how will you revamp education in Nigeria?

For me, education is everything. The number one thing is education, number two is education. It has been clearly shown globally, that the more educated you are as a society, the better the development. So, when we talk about education, you are talking about the core of development. I don’t know anywhere in the world that you talk about infrastructure without talking about education. The greatest investment you need is not physical infrastructure but human infrastructure. And once you can invest in that, you have solved mist of the problems. China, India, and others are doing well today because they invested in human infrastructure, which is education. I have always believed in education. I served as the governor of a state and all of you can do like I always say, ‘go and verify’. My commitment is to education. I recall telling my team that it was unacceptable that Anambra should be at the number where they were in education when we took over. If you check Anambra State, in 2001 and part of 2002, all schools were shut, and nobody was going to school. At that time, we were 25 or 26 in WAEC and NECO. By 2011, 2012 and 2013, we were number one. So, if there’s anything you need to do, it will be in education. First is that the level of investment in education today is unacceptable. Our budget in education for the past six years is not up to our subsidy for this year. That means we are throwing money into the wrong direction. We will invest in education. We will start with the issue of out-of-school children in the north. And as we invest in education, we will invest in youth development, skills acquisition, empowerment, and entrepreneurship.

In Anambra, what you did was to give the schools back to the churches. And it worked. Are you looking at granting autonomy to tertiary institutions?

When it comes to education, there are two ways. There’s basic education which we will fund. We will do whatever we can to do that. Like I said, our budget today needs to increase. I can tell you we can fund that budget. We are looking at the budget of about at least N25 trillion and 10 per cent must go to education and 10 per cent must go to health. These are our critical areas. In terms of tertiary education, we can fund it by a combination of ways. The way we are funding it now is not sustainable. It will have to involve scholarships, grants, and loans. I have studied a few countries and what they are doing. Tertiary education is not done the way we are funding it today. We need to get to where universities would be independent. Now government must be involved in some way. There’s the University like Ibadan, Nsukka which can generate their own funding, but government will support, people will be given loans. I can tell you that under our watch, nobody will close the universities. 

I am surprised that your manifesto is not clear about the issue of minimum wage. Then social protection programmes like pension, insurance, etc which also reflect in physical security are also not well covered…

You said I didn’t mention the issue of minimum wage, I did. I said we’ll move it to an hourly rate payment, and I even went to say that it is low where it is today. I have said we need to work it as we become more productive. In terms of inequality, Nigeria is one of the worst, but it is skewed because the system is not productive. I do not know how to measure or to show you how unproductive Nigeria is, but let’s use our exports because it’s linked to our exchange rate which again is a function of our reserves. As a country, we live on 923,000 square kilometres of land. Our total export for last year was N18.9 trillion which at official rate is $47 billion but in my own rate at N650/$ it is under $30 billion. That is a crisis. That’s unacceptable. Don’t even go to China, India etc, just use our size like Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, and you will know how unproductive we are. Vietnam is 100 million, live on 331,000 square kilometres of land, which is a third of our land and our population. Their total export last year was over $350 billion. None of this is natural resource. Because we’re sharing proceeds of our natural resources, it is transactional. It’s like becoming president and giving someone an oil block, in a system where there is entrepreneurship, there’s no way that will happen. So, for me that is what you’re talking about when you say social justice. When I say moving from consumption to production, consumption of course is critical, but we cannot continue to consume because even in the Bible, they said that if you don’t work, you should not be given food. Here, we have wealth without enterprise. I can go to the airport, and I see somebody who tells me he has a private jet.

No office, nothing. You can’t do that anywhere in the world. I will give you two examples of states in Nigeria when I talk about from consumption to production. We can’t feed ourselves. Six to seven local governments in Niger state today are occupied by bandits and nobody is talking about it. Nobody can go there, not even the governor. Niger State has the most fertile land in this country and possibly Africa. It has 76,300 square kilometres of land. They have other minerals which is part of the reasons the bandits are there. They can’t feed themselves. Niger State depends on coming to Abuja to take N4 billion from its statutory allocation to function every month when Netherlands without water 33,000 square kilometres of land is. So, Niger State is almost two and a half the size of Netherlands. The agricultural export last year was $120 billion, and I have kept repeating this, why can’t our country do that? If Niger state produced that they won’t need to come to Abuja. But they are here. And that’s what I mean by consumption to production. I was in Taraba and the whole of the state, you could see poverty.  I went to see the governor and he kept complaining to me about statutory allocation. Do you know that Taraba is bigger than Belgium and Israel combined? We need to go into production. We can’t even feed ourselves. India is exporting agricultural products. I was in the UK when they were still importing food, but at a point they said no, we need to start producing.

Tied to the issue of production, even in agriculture is insecurity. How are you going to handle that crisis?

First is that we need to review the entire security architecture and as the commander-in-chief, I am going to be in charge. It’s our number one priority. We will look at increasing the manpower, from our police to the other security agencies because the manpower is low. I used to think we had 370,000 policemen. I went to see the Inspector General of Police and he told me we have 320,000 personnel. If you minus about 70,000 of them following people like me around, we are left with 250,000 for a country of 200 million plus. Egypt has 100 million people and one million policemen. So, we need to increase the number. They need to be properly equipped. Many police stations do not have ammunition. So, we have a problem. On top of that, you can’t have a huge country like this without state and local government policing. How are local communities going to protect themselves? But like I always say to people, I will be in charge. We need to be able to do whatever is possible to secure life and property in this country. And again, there’s no way you can have this level of poverty and not have security problems. Everybody is a security problem because they don’t know where the next meal will come from. That was why I talked about the issue of production. We must feed ourselves. That’s why India, the biggest rice importer has become the biggest rice producer. So, we will aggressively address the issue of insecurity.

Let’s talk about the cost of governance and agencies that are duplicating responsibilities.

I am a champion of reduction of cost of governance in Nigeria. It is unacceptable having duplicated agencies. We just have people running around and not being productive. There was something I said to them when I became governor. I told them I wasn’t going to sack anybody, we won’t downsize, but everybody must be productive. If you think your agency needs to stay, tell us how you can generate revenue to keep yourself going. There are countries of the world today that don’t send money to their embassies. They live from their activities, including issuing visas, passport renewals and others and there are Nigerians crying that they can’t get their passports renewed. The cost of governance is unacceptable. It costs more to keep a Nigerian governor than to keep a governor of California, the biggest state in America. When I started as a governor, 30 to 40 per cent of our state budget was used for governor’s office because he has all sorts of things including but not limited to the office of the first lady which was costing about N2 billion annually because she had advisers. And that’s somebody who was not elected, has no position, nothing. They even have advisers. My predecessor bought our lodge in Abuja and was costing us N36 million monthly paying staff, running generators etc. But the governor of Anambra does not live in Abuja. He has no reason to own a house in Abuja. That’s the reason I gave it away. We had in Lagos and Abuja. We had a guest house in Enugu. I gave it to Court of Appeal judges just like the United Nations moved to our lodge in Abuja after the bombing. We had a fuel dump that cost us thirty something million. Once you put the fuel there it will disappear whether you use it or not. There were so many things we needed to shut down. That was what brought about my first impeachment. All these things that you hear budget padding, its simply the cost of governance. There’s no way an American president takes a budget to the national assembly and then when it is returned, there is additional 30 per cent. The governor of California today, if anybody sees him in five vehicles (convoy), he won’t be governor the next day. If he enters first class, paid for by the government of California to Washington, not to talk of chartering a plane, before he finishes paying for the plane he chartered, he’s gone. In Nigeria, a plane from Owerri airport to Abuja is $10,000, now $12,500. If you keep it for every hour, it attracts $6,000 surcharge. Yet, some governors can keep such plane for a full day when they are having meetings. 

You cannot do it anywhere on the surface of the earth and remain in office. So, the cost of governance is criminal here. I don’t want to talk about the national level because I have not reached there. But I believe it’s the same thing. So, we must reduce our cost of governance and we will deal with it decisively.

Let’s look at a cardinal part of your manifesto. The one you call Afrocentric diplomacy. Nigeria is not new to this. What do you plan to do differently so that Nigeria will gain from this policy.

Like you said, I am not going to do anything differently because we already know what it is. But for me, before we look at foreign policy, we need to have domestic stability. We need to address the domestic situation. We have issues of all sorts of agreements within Africa. If we organise ourselves more, we will take advantage of that. A manifesto is a working document. This is something we are going to be working towards. One of the ambassadors I met told me that he was going to invite us as one of the observers in the G20. I told him I won’t go. There’s nothing in G7, G20 and others. All we need to do is to fix our economy. What qualifies one country more than the other? It’s just because we are poor, so we are not in any ‘G’. If elected next year, I will ensure that before I leave office, Nigeria must belong to one ‘G’.

Debt servicing and subsidies are strangling the economy. The country will need to ensure sustainable revenues flow. What are your strategies in this respect?

You mentioned the debts. Every country in the world borrows. It is what you do with your debts that makes the difference. The reason why we are complaining now is because the money we borrowed was consumed. If it was invested into production, all the complaints won’t be there. America owes about almost 90 per cent of GDP (in debt) today. The second biggest economy, China, owes about 50 per cent of their GDP in debt today. Japan, the third biggest economy is owing 230 per cent of their GDP. Even Singapore, Norway with all the sovereign wealth is still owing about 40 per cent of its GDP. So, everybody is owing. It’s what you do with it that makes the difference. If we had invested what we borrowed, we would have been okay today. Other smaller countries borrow. Let me give you an example of two countries that borrowed over the same period. Nigeria and Bangladesh.  If you look at Bangladesh in 2010, go and read the World Bank report. In 2010 Bangladesh’s debt was about $45 billion with a GDP of $115 billion, their per capita was $781. Nigeria was owing about the same amount, even below that amount and our per capita was about $2,280. By 2015, Nigeria’s per capita moved to $2,600 plus and theirs moved from $781 to $1, 245. Today, their debt is about $100 billion plus, ours is $100 billion plus, so we have moved from a debt of about $40 billion to $100 billion and our per capita is $2,058, theirs is now $2,508. So they have more than tripled their own, our own is less now. So, imagine our per capita today is $4,000, we won’t be talking here about a problem. On the issue of revenue, it is a function of productivity, because when you produce, you tax people. Are you going to tax the 133 million people they said are living in poverty? Where will they find the tax to pay you? Taxation is like a bank account. You first must pay something in, before you withdraw. That’s what government does all over the world. You borrow this money and invest it in human beings. The Minister of Humanitarian ministry said they spent $7 billion in the past seven years. That is about N4.5 trillion. If you had invested 100 billion in each state, it would have been a different thing. Because that money borrowed was stolen, they threw more people into poverty. Your working population is 122 million, so 122 million is supposed to be productive. If your unemployment today is 10 per cent, that means only about 12 million isn’t working. But if you have unemployment of 40 per cent, by just pulling people into productivity, you can triple your revenue and again you need to fix the revenue gaps. As for subsidy, it is organised crime, and it should go from day one.

The tax to GDP ratio of Benin and Niger Republic are better than our own which is about the lowest in the world. So, in specific details, what exactly are you going to do to raise tax to GDP. In 2023, budget for debt servicing and subsidies is N9.8 trillion. So, debt and subsidies in six months will wipe out our revenues for the year. So, we have a major revenue problem. You have also said 50 per cent of subsidy is corruption. We want to be educated about the 50 per cent that is corruption.

Revenue is a function of production. Those countries you said they are poor, and are paying more tax to their GDP, they are not collecting more than we are collecting, in quote. So, we are talking about percentage wise. But I am saying that even in that clime, it’s still low and it’s a function of production and economic activities. There are so many loopholes that we need to tackle here in terms of revenue collection. We still have porous revenue collection; oil is still being stolen etc. If I say 50 per cent subsidy is crime, I am only comparing what we are consuming to countries that are our size like Pakistan. If they have about the same population and they have more roads, from what I have studied (I might be wrong), and they consume less than 50 per cent of what we consume, then there’s a problem somewhere. Two, there are so many components of it and people think, okay, is subsidy more important than education? No. People have questions about our loans. If I’m president today, I assure you, subsidy will go. We cannot afford to keep paying subsidy. For me, I will subsidise health and education not fuel. The money I’m paying in subsidy, I will use to support insurance in health. We will support the refineries coming up on stream, including Dangote and the modular refineries. They say there are so many illegal refineries, we will meet with those behind it and legalise it. We will find a way to sell oil (to encourage local refining) because we produce it here. The fuel may be more expensive, but we will not pay subsidy. If people in Kenya can pay for fuel, people in Nigeria can pay for fuel. And we will put the money where they are putting theirs. Kenya has less than 10 per cent unemployment. And that’s the way to go. After all, subsidy is for big men who drive a long line of vehicles.

What’s your idea of restructuring and what items do you think should be removed from the exclusive list. 

We say Nigeria is lopsided because it’s a sharing mentality. Once you are sharing, they start talking about numbers. When you talk about production, it won’t be the same thing. It is the sharing mentality. Once people are sharing, you will start hearing, ‘remember my father did this, my father did that’. When it is about producing, whatever his father put in is different, because he needs to build his own. When we talk about fiscal federalism, the biggest beneficiary of it should be the north, they have the vast uncultivated land. This oil we are sharing now is a diminishing asset that is already gone. The future of Nigeria is in cultivating the vast land in the north, processing what we cultivate and exporting it. Not from oil. What did we get from oil last year? I want to assume that our total export was N18.9 trillion, which is about $30 billion, including the almighty oil. Bangladesh did $36 billion from clothing. Vietnam did more from footwear than we did from oil. They don’t talk about oil; they don’t talk about sharing in their place. Everybody is producing something. It’s this sharing mentality that’s making us behave like this. In fact, what we should be doing now is using the resources of oil to clean up and develop the Niger Delta for all the pain they have been through. Look, the Bank of Industry is dead in a developing country. India has more than, in fact the area called Punjab alone has about 700,000 tractors. Nigeria, in total has below 50,000. We must move along the right path. First, it won’t be easy. You need to begin to understand that there’s no more public money to steal because it’s finished.

How are you going to deal with the crisis of ‘indigeneship’ in Nigeria?

I will tell you how I want to deal with it, but again, it’s a function of sharing. The reason why in America, nobody is asking you where you come from is that there’s nothing to share. That’s why Elon Musk can come from South Africa and become the richest person in America. If it were here in Nigeria, they will be asking where’s he from. Is he from north or south? When it’s productivity, there will be nothing to share so you can go to the north and cultivate all the land and become the richest man. You must remove sharing from the equation. If you want this country to work, remove sharing. Let’s bring in competition, that’s what obtains in America. A truck driver came into America and founded what we are calling WhatsApp today, which is ‘what’s up’. He didn’t need to start explaining where his mother or father is from. That’s a level playing field. Let people’s hard work and talent match with the opportunities and you will see the society change. In India today, nobody cares where you come from. It’s leading in Information Technology. That’s why a schoolteacher like Alibaba became what he is. He went to join the police; they disqualified him based on height. Today, look at companies he has created. That’s what we need in Nigeria and in five years this country will start changing. We want to create that kind of Nigeria.

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