We are building a powerful momentum for national rebirth and renaissance – Mailafia
Obadiah Mailafia, a former deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and currently the presidential candidate of the African Democratic Congress (ADC), in this interview with OWEDE AGBAJILEKE, speaks on his 2019 presidential ambition and the state of the nation. The renowned development economist, banker and political philosopher, says he is the best man for the job this time around. Excerpts:
May we know what informed your decision to join the presidential race?
Thank you for asking. I have observed and prayerfully reflected on the direction this country is going, and I am alarmed by what I see. It has reached a point that demands that all men and women of honour must stand up and be counted. It occurred to me that my entire career had been a preparation for this mission. The direction our country is going right now can only culminate in disaster. There is despair everywhere. Lawlessness, criminality, kidnapping, poverty and suffering. The North is actually worse off than the rest of the country. We have been fed a diet of broken promises. Government is being run by nepotism and hidden, sectional agendas. It is not a national government of the people, but a one-sided administration whose ultimate policies will end up destroying our country, God forbid!
Some of the so-called movers and shakers we see around are of doubtful origins. That is why they cannot feel the pain of our people – and this is why they behave with such callous wickedness and impunity.
We the true sons and daughters of this ancient land of our forefathers solemnly present ourselves to the people, with humility, honour and grace. We are on a mission to salvage our country. We seek your mandate to serve you as servant leaders, not your masters. My name Obadiah (in Arabic Obaid’Allah) means ‘servant of the Most High’. My destiny is to be your servant. My family name, Mailafia, in the Hausa language means ‘a bearer or harbinger of peace and well-being’. I was born to be the servant of the people and the one who brings them peace. During our reign, Nigeria shall enjoy a great peace. We shall govern with humility and the fear of God. We are taking over and we are going to show the world that Nigeria has statesmen of class and pedigree. We are going to exercise leadership with vision, courage, compassion and justice. Ours will be a people’s government – a government for all Nigerians.
Nigerian politics is largely seen as a dirty game and you are entering the murky waters of politics with sharks and those ready to fight dirty. How will you convince those who say this is not your turf?
I agree with you that politics is murky and replete with bloodthirsty sharks and all manner of carnivorous animas. I think it was Obasanjo who wrote a book with the unusual title, ‘This Animal Called Man’. Believe you me, I have studied enough political theory to know how treacherous the terrain can be. From Machiavelli to Thomas Hobbes and the Indian statesman Kautilya, I know that men can be beasts. But I have also read enough of moral theology that men and women can also demonstrate the better angels of our human nature. It is a mixed bag. One must have a tough skin. But this is also the more reason why I find it exciting and great fun.
For decades, our best talents have shied away from politics because of all the duplicity, treachery and muckraking. Believe it or not, I have weighed the costs. I know how terrible and wicked some of our so-called politicians are. As we enter into another electoral-political cycle, you will hear of many strange things: sudden disappearances, virgins being kidnapped and killed and their private organs taken away. You will hear of ritual murders. These things happen. This is even the more reason why men of conscience and honour – the lovers of God and of humanity – must stand up and be counted. The Greek philosopher Plato noted that the price for not going into politics is that you will end up being governed by your inferiors. I do not consider anyone my inferior, but we are definitely tired of being ruled by lower minds. Our campaign will be focused on issues rather than abuse of anyone, no matter how bad they are. We shall also eschew all forms of violence, physical or verbal or symbolic. We believe in the ideals of non-violence as taught by Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. But we will fight ferociously for what we believe in. We will fight for the centre through our moral and spiritual force. We will bring together the biggest coalition of progressive youths who share our vision of a New Nigeria. We are building a powerful momentum for a national rebirth and renaissance. Nigeria will fulfil her destiny as a great nation under God.
Electioneering in this part of the world is capital intensive. Do you have the financial war chest to prosecute your campaign?
I am sorry to have to disappoint you. We have no war chest to speak of – I wish we did. Much of what we have done so far has been on a shoestring budget, from our modest family savings. One or two friends who believe in us have chipped in their widows’ mite. But we do not possess what you would call a ‘war chest’. The simple truth is that I have never defrauded this country or any institution for which I worked outside our country. Much of our campaign is being driven by youth and women volunteers. We are soon going to launch a fundraising campaign for donations to this cause.
At the same time, we abhor and condemn the extreme monetisation of politics in this country. My wife and I have received open abuses in some forums when we could not bring out the dosh. People angrily shouted: ‘What kind of idiots are you, you have no money and you think you can do politics in Naija?’
Well, we have bitten the bullet and we are not retreating. I know that politics the world over has become a game of money – humungous amounts of it. But we also believe that it can never be all about the god of Mammon. Barrack Obama started his career in politics with no money and no godfather. He had never really ever held down a steady job, unlike his wife he was a well-off partner in a prominent law firm. But it didn’t stop Obama from becoming President of the great American Republic. Young Emmanuel Macron similarly had no money and no godfather; an unknown quantity among the political gladiators of France. He defied all the odds and became the occupant of the high magistracy of the French Republic. We and the ADC are going to pull a surprise. We are the Third Force that this country has been waiting for!
If elected, how will you fix the economy differently from what is being done currently by the present administration?
We are resolutely committed to running an issues-based campaign. So we are not here to lampoon any individual. But let’s face it: we are facing a case of abysmal failure. The current administration has failed. They do not even grasp the first principles of public economic management. Our country today has the dubious price of being the world capital of poverty. Some eighty million of our people live below the poverty line. Youth unemployment in Borno and Zamfara currently stands well above the 70 percent mark. Investors have fled in droves. The banks and manufacturers are laying off staff. Our beloved country has been thrown to the dogs, a Hobbesian nightmare where life is ‘solitary, nasty, brutish and short’. There is kidnapping everywhere, violence, cultism and nihilism. Our people, and, especially the middle class, are living lives of quiet desperation. Families are being squeezed. And yet we have a government that doesn’t seem to care at all.
As it happens, I am a development economist, banker and financial expert. Economics is what I do best. We at the ADC recently launched our blueprint for the nation. It is anchored on three pillars: peace and security, nation building and economic development. Without peace there can evidently be no social progress. Security is everything. We must therefore actively pursue it. Peace in our context is constituted by four elements: tackling insecurity, restructuring and nation building and wrestling down the monster of corruption. The greatest challenge facing our people right now is insecurity. When we come into power in 2019 we will confront the demons of war and violence head-on. These monsters are enemies of our people and we will crush them.
The second pillar is nation building. Some would prefer to call it ‘restructuring’. I prefer to call it ‘nation building’. We are committed to pursuing the agenda of nation building that will give all Nigerians a sense of collective belonging. The great Swiss historian Jacob Burkhart, in his epochal studies of the early modern state in renaissance Italy, famously described the political state as ‘a work of art’. The metaphor is very apt. Nation states do not evolve by sheer chance or historical accident. They are created and nurtured by statesmen. A state, like a piece of art, must be built with vision, creativity, patience and dexterity. Franz Fanon also declared that the task of every generation is to discover its mission and to fulfil or betray it. I am persuaded that the mission of our generation of leadership is to re-imagine and reinvent Nigeria as a country that is both forward-looking and democratic; a progressive country anchored on the foundations of genuine federalism, peace, positive science, the rule of law, freedom and social justice.
The third pillar is economic development. Battling poverty and underdevelopment requires that we focus majorly on the economy. It is the key to our common prosperity. But it cannot happen in a vacuum. What will drive our prosperity is a new ethos of leadership based on development and social progress. We are committed to reinventing the state as a developmental institution that promotes poverty-alleviation and ensures long-term prosperity. The battle for development will be focused in four main areas: creating a developmental state, revamping our power and infrastructures, boosting agribusiness and food security, and implementing an industrial revolution. For a start, we shall issue an Executive Order requiring all government buildings from local government to states and the federation to install solar panels on their roofs. This will greatly alleviate some of the shortfalls in power. We have a policy of Electricity for All which we shall implement with zeal and passion. We are bringing back the tradition of economic development planning, including urban regional planning.
My running mate and Vice-President-to-be, Tanimowo Nuraini Bolanle Nasiru, a relation of the Alaafin of Oyo, is a renowned professor of Urban and Regional Planning. He will oversee the economic development planning process, in addition to power and infrastructures. We shall institute in the heart of government a Strategy Group that will drive our economic development strategy. All ministers, permanent secretaries and heads of government agencies and departments will have a performance contract. There will be regular monitoring and evaluation. Those who do not perform will be shown the way out. Action will speak louder than words!
Nigeria’s public debt stock has risen from $63.8 billion in 2015 to $73 billion this year, yet bedevilled by infrastructure deficit. The present administration has said the loans are judiciously utilised. Do you agree?
Unfortunately, I will have to say a capital No! You would recall that during the very first official visit of President Muhammadu Buhari to the United States in 2015, he received a US$1.2 billion loan ostensibly for the rehabilitation of the North East. Well, I am sorry to say that we have not seen any major rehabilitation or reconstruction in the North East. Boko Haram, even in its death-throes, has continued to wreak havoc on defenceless communities. The money was presumably dissipated on ‘grass cutters’ and other such rodents. It is a disaster. Our national debt in 2015 was about N11 trillion. This is what the PDP administration accumulated over a decade of grand larceny. The APC government nearly doubled the debt to over N23 trillion in 2018. And what are they using the loans for? They are building railways to Niger! This is not only an incompetent government, it is a wicked one. It is treasonable, in my view, to borrow foreign loans to build railways leading into another country.
It may interest you to know that during the Gowon era in late sixties and early seventies, Finance Minister Obafemi Awolowo did not borrow one dollar from the international financial markets to prosecute the Nigeria-Biafra war. Same applied for post-war rehabilitation and reconstruction of the South East. This is what we call leadership. As matters now stand, our debt is reaching a dangerous threshold. Our revenue growth is not sufficient to cope with exponential growth in debt. In principle, I cannot say we should not borrow. But we must borrow only for projects that have a guaranteed return on investments – in such sectors as power and infrastructures. We do not need to borrow to prosecute the war against Boko Haram. Let’s empower our armed forces and unleash the spirit of our communities. Our ancient warrior tribes are more than enough to call the bluff of the bastards.
As a seasoned economist, banker and administrator of distinction, does it make economic sense to borrow to pay salaries as currently being experienced?
Like I said earlier, it obviously does not make any sense whatsoever to borrow for consumption. Former Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala actually did reveal that, towards the tail end of the Goodluck Jonathan PDP government, they had reached a low point where they were borrowing massively to pay salaries. This is foolhardy. Economics, Oeconomicus, as a practical science was founded by the ancient Greeks on the concept of the household and how the mother of a family balances her incomes and expenditures. Imagine this scenario: she has suddenly found herself in shortage of food to feed the family and then has to go to the bank to borrow at 20percent just for consumption. It does not make sense whatsoever.
Left to me, I would not even use oil money from FAAC to pay salaries. In the early seventies when the southern African nation of Botswana suddenly discovered huge deposits of diamonds, their first president Sir Seretse Khama, decreed that no money earned from diamonds should be used to pay salaries. He insisted that the state cut its coat according to its cloth – that dollars earned from diamond exports be used strictly for infrastructures and for savings to boost the value of the national currency. That is economic and financial wisdom. We need a new national compact in this country to ensure that we never borrow for consumption but for projects with cast-iron guarantees on investment returns.
Parliament should also demand a full report and evaluation on what all previous loans have been used for. External borrowing is a national sovereignty issue. We understand that our government has even pledged some of our oil fields to the Chinese as collateral in the event that we are unable to service our loans. This is dangerous.
Although there are 79 presidential candidates, analysts say the contest seems to be a two-horse race between President Muhammadu Buhari and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar. How bright are your chances?
Please, let me correct your miss-statement. It is actually a three-horse race. The African Democratic Congress (ADC) is the fastest growing party in our country today. We were contesting the third position with the Social Democratic Party (SDP), but the latter are no more in the reckoning. After their primaries they have gone to court for one issue or the other. Until they resolve their legal contestations, they will really be of no consequence. The ADC is a formidable machine of patriots who believe in democracy and social justice, in solidarity, peace and pan-Africanism.
Some of us are in touch with the grassroots and the youths of this country. The truth is that they are completely fed up with both the APC and the PDP. Nigerian youths are disenchanted with old recycled politicians. They represent the Old Nigeria. We represent the New Nigeria. Do you know that none of them have come out with an economic blueprint? We developed our economic blueprint months ago. Last week we unveiled it to the public. But it is not cast in stone. We are still consulting with experts and key stakeholders with a view to fine-tuning it and make it more practical and relevant to the needs and expectations of the Nigerian people. Please, watch this space. The ADC will spring a big surprise in this country. We represent the last hope of the so-called ‘common man’.
We are the true Nigerians. We are not coming with a sectional agenda. We are for all Nigerians – North and South, Muslim and Christian, women and men, children and youths, old and young. Some wicked people have dubbed me ‘a hater of Fulanis’. I spoke out against the killings of innocent people in the Middle Belt of Nigeria. I am a public intellectual and a humanist – a corresponding member of Socialist International. I believe in humanity and solidarity. I can never hate anyone, least of all our beloved Fulani people with whom we have lived and intermarried for centuries. I suspect that even I myself have some Fulani blood in me.
But make no mistake about it: I am sworn enemy of murderers of innocent women and children. And I will forever remain the enemy of such murderers and scoundrels. They will have me to deal with when we are in power. What has discomfited my traducers is that my strongest show of support has been in places like Kastina, Kano and Zamfara. In Enugu, in Yenagoa, in Oyo, Lagos and Ogun and Osun, the gospel of a New Nigeria is spreading like wild Holy Ghost fire. Youths and women are ferociously campaigning for us, giving generously, their resources, time and energy. I pray our Almighty to bless them mightily. I promise that they will not be disappointed. I will be their president and I will serve all Nigerians without fear or favour. I will protect their rights and liberties like a lion from the mountains of Lalibela. We symbolise the hope and glory of the New Nigeria that will soon be revealed.
If elected, how many jobs will you create in one year?
Politicians have this penchant for throwing up wild figures and fake promises, all with an eye to winning the hearts and minds of voters. We do not believe in making fake promises. We are practical realists. One thing for sure is that the thrust of our economic strategy is founded on work, job creation and human capital development. In our twenty-first century digital industrial civilisation, people are the new wealth of nations. We know that a country that invests in the education, training and health of its people will be at a more competitive edge than those that do not. The youth of our country face enormous challenges. For one thing, our system offers them little hope and little or no job opportunities. Most are scheming how to leave the country for so-called ‘greener pastures’. When their talents find a creative outlet, our youth will astonish us. Some of the creative industries flourishing at present are driven by youths. Everywhere I have visited in our glorious continent, young people are wild about film stars such as Omotola Jelade and Genevieve Nnaji and musical artistes such as Tiwa Savage and Tu-Face. They are a form of soft power for Nigeria.
A major challenge facing our young people is, of course, unemployment. Much of this derives from low educational opportunities, skills deficits and the mismatch between jobs and educational curricula. And there is some evidence that women are worse hit than men when it comes to unemployment. Our strategy will mainstream women and youth into the heart of our economic development and governance process. We believe in the girl child. We believe that when we empower women we empower the family. And when we empower the family we empower the nation. The ADC has a policy of allocating not less than 30 percent of positions to women. We will aim to go higher. We intend to boost jobs by having a public works approach to infrastructure development and expanding agribusiness opportunities. Our Electricity for All campaign and our commitment to sustainable energy systems and to unleashing a new Industrial Revolution will create massive job opportunities for our people. We expect to deliver some 5 million jobs in our first year alone. And in the space of 4 years, it will be possible to generate over 16 million additional jobs if we do the right things.
How will you solve the issue of insurgency that has ravaged a section of the country – the North East?
The insurgency has had a devastating impact on our country, no doubt; a war that has ravaged our nation virtually for 10 years. Added to it is the murderous mayhem by armed herdsmen militias. I do not regard them as Fulanis at all. We have lived with Fulanis since ancient times. They are part and parcel of our communities. These people are mostly foreigners, most of them armed by shadowy foreign powers and local collaborationists, all with the goal of destroying our beloved country. To echo the language of Sir Winston Churchill, British wartime Prime Minister: ‘we will fight them on the villages; we will fight them on the streets; we will fight them in the creeks; we will fight them in the cities and towns. And we will defeat them. We will defeat them because we are the children of light and they are children of darkness’.
The majority of Nigerians across all faiths love peace and cherish tolerance for their neighbours. They are tired of war, lawlessness, violence and disorder. We will pitch our tent with the majority. We shall deploy sophisticated technological warfare to confront the enemies of our people. I cannot reveal everything we will do in this interview. We will not be foolish enough to supply ammunitions to our enemies. But be rest assured that we will crush them.
It may interest you to know that, although a development economist, I am also a student of military warfare. As a fellow of the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru, I did a lot of work in security and military strategy. One of the main weaknesses with the current approach has been an obsession with counter-terrorism measures that require mobilisation of the army, police and intelligence services. The singularity of this strategy has its inherent dangers. The ideal approach is a comprehensive strategy that not only dislodges the insurgents but also eliminates the social conditions that generate their wicked ideology of violence and death. Linked to the foregoing is the need for a social development fund for war-affected communities.
Our approach is anchored on a Defensive Engagement and Reconstruction Strategy (DEAREST). It is a comprehensive approach anchored on mobilisation of citizens, institutions and security agencies in confronting violent insurgents. We advocate a strategy of ‘total defence’. It is clear that military solutions alone will not destroy violent extremism; on the contrary, they may serve to radicalise otherwise neutral groups. We must tackle the social conditions that give rise to radical ideologies, in addition to winning the propaganda war and enhancing the capability of government to deliver social services and critical public goods to the citizens. Our approach fundamentally differs from all the others by its inclusion of the elements of state building, socio-economic reconstruction and political engagement. It comprises seven key elements, namely: Prevention; Protection; Preparation; Prosecution; Rehabilitation; Reconstruction; and Political Engagement.
We are committed to political engagement with key stakeholders, ruling elite, civil society, traditional elders, religious leaders and the organised private sector. There must be a national dialogue on how to remove culture of violence from national politics and how to tame the menace of religious extremism. It also requires a new national compact redefining the fundamental contours of the Nigerian national project. We are committed to reinventing our country as a progressive and forward-looking nation that is at peace with itself and its neighbours – a moral force in international politics. Equally crucial is the creation of a new national security paradigm anchored on human security, solidarity, economic empowerment, inclusive development, welfare, participatory democracy.
What sector of the Nigerian economy will receive utmost attention from you, if elected as President?
If you want me to point to one single item that is a top priority, I would say power. Within four years we intend to upscale power distribution to at least 20,000 MW while boosting distribution by 100 percent. It is foolhardy to lump the power sector together with works and housing. We need a stand-alone power ministry with a minister who is committed and passionate about Electricity for All. We shall work with local and foreign investors, building robust synergies for the transformation of the power sector. Electricity is central to our collective ambition to become an advanced technological-industrial economy. Our immediate focus must be on completing the outstanding power projects while tackling structural bottlenecks surrounding generation and distribution. Obstacles discovered will be isolated and tackled. We also note that our current approach is static rather than dynamic. We will institute a paradigm shift in policy and action. We also do not have an electrification policy. We shall bring leadership and fresh dynamism to the sector. We shall launch a comprehensive programme anchored on universal access through the vehicle of public works project approach that generates momentum and jobs.
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