Olisa Agbakoba, a senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN), is also chairman of 3rd Force Parties and co-founder of National Intervention Movement (NIM). At an media event he hosted in Lagos, Agbakoba spoke on the state of the nation; highlighting among other things, the urgent need to institute a National Order; the current unfortunate socio-economic and political situation in the country; why the incumbent administration must be voted out of office in 2019, the role of the Third (3rd) Force in enthroning a new government and the plan by the Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) to come out with a consensus candidate sometime in January next year. ZEBULON AGOMUO, Editor, was there. Excerpts:
Campaign has begun in earnest, where are we on alliances? Are we still expecting coalitions and consensus as we draw closer to the elections?
There are four political trends. Two are obvious, which is the PDP and the APC. There are 91 political parties in the country today, what are they doing? But don’t forget that there is something called the CUPP- the Coalition of the United Political Parties and all, except three belong to it. ObyEzekwesili does not. Sowore does not and Kingsley Moghalu. So, there is Ezekwesili, Sowore and Moghalu (in one group) making three, then the CUPP, four.Interestingly, all the parties are there except APC, Ezekwesili, Moghalu and Sowore.
We clearly understand that to win the forth-coming election, we require a united opposition. So, all the parties are simply presenting their presidential candidates. Some like Atiku, have presented their manifestos; but by January, the (CUPP) will formalise its own consensus candidate. It may not be Atiku; it is possible; it may be Atiku; but the person who will win it, is the person who shows what I like to call the ‘heavy lifting’.He must be able to show that he can get the work done. So, personally, I am pro-Atiku because I think he has the heavy-lighting.But I will not pre-empt anything by saying that others should not go. We are all united in a mantra, in a swan-song around our campaign; that is, ‘Anybody but Buhari’; that is the campaign mantra, ‘Anybody but Buhari’.
We are making sure that the four locust years – from 2015 to 2019 – will never repeat itself in Nigeria.
This has been the worst government in the Nigerian history; unemployment rate at 20 million; youth unemployment is so high;inflation is raging at about 18 percent. Borrowing requirements and interest rates is at about 28 percent; nothing is working; and I am sure you know that. So, we need to do something to reclaim our country.
That’s the message. The clear message is that we can only do that in a united opposition party which we now have.
Obasanjo’s own is ADC. I am affiliated with the People’s Trust and all of these come under the umbrella of Third (3rd) Force. That is the resolve of the campaign to ensure that we carry ourselves forward.
Some presidential candidates are presenting their policy documents; some observers say that Nigerians have seen too many of them without them taking the country anywhere. What is your take here?
For instance, in the 3rdForce political parties that I chair, we have 6,720 canvassers. Let me remind that elections are won at the grassroots level. Not in the city; but at the grassroots level where you have about the 80 percent of the voting population.So, the campaign that we are designing is to canvass votes at the grassroots. They don’t know about policy documents; I also do not believe so much about policy documents because we know what the issues are – jobs, jobs and jobs. So, you can write any amount of policy documents; it is not going to be translated into 300 Nigerian languages; but if you went to the villages and asked the people how do you feel; they don’t need a policy document to know that they don’t feel good; so, the message is to get the votes in; that is number one; to make sure that the votes count, too.
A lot has been said since the public presentation by President Muhammadu Buhari of the ‘Next Level’ policy document. How would you describe it?
I can tell you the level. If you go to a hotel; you go to the lift; the lift is on ground floor. The porter will ask you, ‘which level?’ He will assume you are going up, so he will say, ‘one or two?’ But, this next level is going down; basement; that’s what it is. The level is taking us to the basement of the hotel, but I want to be on the 10th floor. So, the ‘Next Level’ document is a non-starter; a failed document. I hope Nigerians will see it.
How peaceful do you envisage the elections to be? Or put in a different way; do you see a resistance on the part of the incumbent administration to accept defeat in 2019 if the election does not favour it?
Clearly, we are seeing a rapacious determination on the part of this government to potentially rig the election and/or refuse to leave if beaten.We are stirring a potential legitimacy crisis next year.President Buhari isn’t President Jonathan, Jonathan left quietly and peacefully. I still hope that those around President Buhari will say to him, ‘you have lost, go’. On the other hand, if President Buhari wins the election in a fair, credible, transparent election, then that’s what the people say.
The people are the final arbiters. What we want is credibility. But can you believe that the service chiefs with their entire medal-beaded chests appeared at President Buhari’s declaration last Sunday? How do I have confidence in them during the elections?
The very men who should be the arbiters, appearing at the press briefing of the President, that is very dangerous and worrying. So, the time is still open for Nigerian institutions- Army, Police, INEC- to conduct for us free and fair elections.
But in order to win this election, we’ve got to say something. And I am happy that the 3rd Force has played a very strong role in introducing, for the first time, in a long time, issue-driven election; and that’s what comes out of the media briefings that I have been having.A lot of them went into the formation of the 3rdForce.
When we started 3rd Force; I remember one of the things we said was that we needed to aggregate numbers. And I am happy that we have done that; we have made an impact but we need to, then, win the election. If the elections were to hold today, the winner would be Atiku, distant second would be Buhari; third would be the 3rd Force. That’s my reading of the election as at today. So, our challenge is to close the gap. I don’t pretend we are behind; but I feel we can close the gap. We are working in three states – when I say state, I don’t mean Anambra State, I mean aggregate of states. What they call the swing states (it can go anywhere). Then you have the battle grounds (the North West, north east and south west) are the battle grounds; then you have the safe states. We want to increase our canvassers to about ten thousand; we are working in all of these states. So, if we increase our canvassers to ten thousand, then we will be virtually at every polling unit. But we have to canvass with something.
What is the way forward for Nigeria according to 3rd Force projections?
We have broken our issues into three broad campaign issues – Political governance, economic governance and administrative governance. Mark you, anyone who tells you that it is going to be business as usual doesn’t want Nigeria to change.
If you are looking for transformational leadership, then there’s going to be a root and branch reform of how we do business.
The first thing is labour. Labour is in fight with the Federal Government over a unified minimum wage. Some states can pay N60,000; Lagos State can do that. My state, Anambra, cannot do N60,000; It can do N30,000 or N40,000. Some can’t even do N18,000. The truth also is that in some states, the cost of living (COLA), Michael Imodu used it; I don’t understand why today’s Labour leaders are not using it – cost of living adjustment (COLA) meaning that in Zamfara when I went there some time ago as president of Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) I remember that N50 could fetch you food.
Food is cheap in the North generally. So, you can’t say that a person who works in Lagos should get the same amount of money with the man who is in Gusau.
The way to resolve this is through restructuring; this centralised system doesn’t work. Why for instance, should a high court judge in Lagos get the same pay as a high court judge in Asaba when they are living in different social conditions? So, the first thing on the table is to restructure Nigeria. We will do that in two levels. The constitution requires that two third of the 36 states and the Federal Government and the National Assembly participate in the restructuring.
That may entail a difficult task, but there are things that can be done immediately called administrative restructuring so that the Federal Government can make statutory transfer to the states. Things that the Federal Government is doing – you see Chibuike Amaechi moving up and down everywhere; you see Fashola everywhere but they have commissioners of work; the Federal Government can make those budgets because under the constitution,Federal Government does roads; but if they budget a particular road and it is touching two states, say – Lagos and Oyo – you call the governors and give them the money.
So, you begin to free yourself from the ‘wahala’ of a big federation. These are the two top things we need to do; and we think if we do these things we see substantial changes.
You are all witnesses to the fact that Nigeria is in chaos; – fighting, herdsmen, killings; kidnapping; rapes, disunity; murders, Boko Haram, etc.
If you don’t resolve disunity, we are going nowhere. Historically, it is called the International Order. Order means, a stable system of things; so, when the Europeans were fighting their religious wars 30-year old war; 100-year war; 50-year war – they met in German state of Westphalia and passed a treaty and agreed ‘peace’. After that came the Vienna League of Nations. Then when the Americans and Russians began to challenge themselves with nuclear weapon, they created MAD – Mutual Assured Destruction, which is the current international order, so that the Americans would not throw a missile into Russia because of the MAD.
We have to erect one. So, National Order process is part of the restructuring. Federal character in a sense has not really worked. We need a National Order formulated after MAD.
Many people in Nigeria feel cheated. I feel cheated as an Igboman; that’s why I am happy to see Peter Obi back in the process.Since 1979, Igbo man has never been in the equation. Why should I be happy? I would not be happy. I am sure we all have our various grievances.Those from Benue are not happy either; they have been killing their people. There is fighting everywhere. No political party seems to know the importance of a National Order. The big political parties appear not to have any plan about National Order; it is not mentioned by Atiku and it is not mentioned by Buhari; but it is the cardinal framework of a policy of 3rd force parties. We are going to make a bold statement on the return to old values. You give a man N2billion to produce something for his people he chops all the money and nothing happens to him. That can’t be fair. So, we are going to introduce National Order. So, our political governance is to say, ‘Eh, we are tired of this madness.If we go on with this madness, we can’t get to anywhere’.
If you go to Ghana; you cannot compare them with Nigeria. We are like people on fire. It is like they put a bazooka under our asses; and it blows up and we all go mad; crazy. Drunken men cannot rule Nigeria; drunken men can’t be good followers.
Ours is to make sure that National Order and restructuring are the priority. We need to recall how Nigeria was.
We have a programme called Economic Governance. Under this we have three main plans. The first is to look at our macro-economic framework. If the Central Bank is fixing MPR at 14 percent and the banks are lending at 20 percent, there will be no business; nobody is going to survive. So, we are going to ensure that the lending rate comes down to single digit. We will not put money in TSA because that is a very silly idea.
You go and packed money saying you don’t want it to be stolen. We will tell a bank, if you want to use our money, 5 percent we lend to you. If you don’t want to use it; you leave it.
We are going to use the banks because they are the best vehicle to circulate money.
That’s what happens everywhere in the world.
The three critical policies of Economic Governance are Monetary, Fiscal and Trade. Under monetary, we emphasise rates reduction, especially lending to single digit to encourage business growth. Borrowing at 20percent is crazy.On fiscal, we expand money supply to meet expenditure and other needs –without which government cannot fund its money requirements. An expansionary fiscal policy is the only way Nigeria will grow at a GDP of 10percent per annum.This also involves trade; this entails using import substitution to encourage local industries and apply trade tariffs e.g. Fly Nigeria Act, Cabotage and Review Trade Agreements, including bilateral trade agreements e.g. BASA. The notion of fair trade is vital to protect our industries and help them grow.There’s what we call national treatment. This simply means putting Nigeria first in everything just like Donald Trump is doing.
The issue of Economic Governance is vital as macroeconomic management can see 50 million Nigerians out of poverty in 48 months. Good macroeconomic management will expand the economy, create jobs and build up the power sector and infrastructure etc. and diversify the economy.
The priority of economic governance is to diversify the economy and make it less dependent on imports. Nigeria has long depended on crude oil as if it is the only hydrocarbon to the utter neglect of gas. The economy heavily relies on oil revenue and is vulnerable to price shocks in oil and the associated risk to national stability. The most recent volatility in oil prices suggests that we must start to diversify our revenue income streams by developing non-oil tradable sectors.
A clear strategy, model and plan for economic diversification both horizontally and vertically is necessary. Horizontal diversification should explore new opportunities in the same oil and gas sector. There are at least thirty-six value added products to be explored in the extraction of crude oil. Vertical diversification means a shift from the oil and gas sector to other sectors, agriculture, services, maritime, aviation/space, manufacturing, health, sports, etc.
Pursuing economic diversification will make the economy less vulnerable to the boom and bust cycles of oil and natural gas prices. A model we can follow is the United Arab Emirate that has successfully diverted out of oil into new revenue sources.
On the financial services sector, we have observed that banks have abused the public trust as financial intermediaries. The Financial Services Sector (FSS) is the oxygen and life blood of a strong economy but it has to be supported by strong independent institutions. We have weak institutions in the FSS. This has made the economy weak; a new strong FSS is sine qua non for growth and development. A strong FSS enables banks to provide credit not just to a few but to all Nigerians. Nigerian banks are mostly money lenders and traders. Banking regulations have failed to supervise them. As a result the economy is starved of badly needed credit. The proper role of banks is to lend money to the well over 100 million potential Nigerian customers. Now, only the privileged few get bank credit. If regulation forces banks to lend as banks and not just money lenders that they are, there will be massive jobs expansion. As I have said earlier, banks are the life and blood of the economy. But the Nigerian economy is anemic because banks are not lending. But it is not sufficient to blame the banks. Fiscal policy has to be right to stimulate the banks to act as banks and not money lenders.
There are three vital missing links in the FSS. The first is that there is no fiscal credit policy that assures cash flow into the system to the benefit of Nigerians who are consumers of goods and services. If there are no consumers, goods and services will remain unsold and investors are discouraged as there are no markets.
The second major institutional gap is the absence of a National Credit Guarantee Agency that should support viable business proposals. When viable business proposals are guaranteed, the economy gets stimulated and expanded and that gets converted to goods and services that are sold on to consumers.
The third institutional need is a Development Bank to lend to vital sectors of the economy. The CBN intervention Fund Policy must stop. The CBN is best suited to formulate monetary policy. The Development Bank should take over intervention lending from CBN.
If these three missing links are plugged the rate of expansion of the economy is to be imagined. It was this formula that helped China bring out 500 million of its population from extreme poverty. There are many other ways to strengthen the FSS and fiscal policy but this is beyond the purview of this short memo. Last but most important is to introduce banking legislation and unbundle the CBN.
Then we have administrative governance.
There is the need for a lean and efficient public service.It is not sustainable for 5 million Federal Public Servants to gulp N1.9 trillion when Federal Government makes only N1.2 million.Oil Subsidy must go; there must be the implementation of the Oronsonye Report; downsizing of government, and government must get out of business to downsize government and increase efficiency.
Sometime ago you said that you had a discussion with former president Obasanjo on the possibility of power shift in 2019; now do you see that happening, and if you are in support of any candidate that is not within the youth bracket; would you have achieved the power shift?
No; I would not have achieved that; but are you suggesting that power shift is the only thing? Are you saying that if we just give a 35-year old man president, Nigeria will be good? No; I am looking for who can run the country; that’s my own. I used that to kick off a debate and I am happy that it has produced something because without that I wouldn’t even be here. It was on the basis of that discussion that Obasanjo said to me, why not do this and that; then I remembered all that I have been doing. I just collected all of my media briefings, like all these notes, called a few guys and we went. Yes, I would like to have a 25-year old president, if he is competent. But I would not like to have a 25-year old president merely because he is 25 years. So, nothing is exact, and that power shift is within certain context.
What is your own candid assessment of the President Buhari administration in the last three–and-half years?
The problem with President Buhari has been certain lethargy; a certain monarchial rule; a certain distant president; not engaged; far; very remote. You don’t see him; you only see his ministers talking. Don’t you see what Trump does? He is always engaged. Well, I don’t know what you think about President Buhari; but personally, for me, I don’t think he has done enough for me. That’s point one. Point two; if you look at his three cardinal programmes- I can give him a grudging pass mark on security; at least, Boko Haram went down a bit; but can I give him any mark on anti-corruption? No. Can I give any mark on economy? Absolutely no.
Tags: 2019 Presidential election
, Olisa Agbakoba