The presidential candidate of the African Democratic Congress in the forthcoming election, Dr Obadiah Mailafia, in this interview with TUNDE AJAJA, speaks on his agenda for Nigerians if elected into office
How did you feel when you were excluded from the recent presidential debate?
I am sure you will be surprised by my answer. I feel flattered about being excluded. At the risk of sounding arrogant, I must tell you that none of the gladiators are my intellectual equals. They are afraid of debating with people like us. They know we know this country inside out. They know we have the eloquence and charisma. And they are afraid. It is also a form of discrimination. There were strongholds in this country that do not want a Christian from the Middle Belt to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with everybody else in debating the issues that matter to all Nigerians. When it comes to labour and sacrifice, they appeal to the heresy of all of us being “Northerners”. When it comes to sharing the goodies, they are openly discriminatory. It is a shame. They want to hide my candle under a bushel. But they have failed woefully. The more they try to prevent our light from shining, the more we shall shine. Ultimately, it is not about me; it is about our country and the future of the teeming millions of youths who look to us to give them hope from this long night of misery and despair.
To a large extent, a number of Nigerians are still fixated with the two dominant parties, how do you intend to swing the majority of the votes in your favour in an election that is just about four weeks away?
To be honest with you, I cannot sit here and make a wild claim that I have a magic wand with which to sway voters. I do not. But one thing I know is that most Nigerians – particularly the youths – are not convinced that they are being provided with real alternatives. The two so-called dominant parties are full of recycled analogue political jobbers. They have no ideas and no solutions. All they want is power and the accoutrements that go with it. We are here to serve. What I offer the Nigerian people is servant-leadership. We are going to build a New Nigeria. We aim to create a US$1tn knowledge economy in the next five years. And we are going to lead from the front. Let me say it with all humility: I am the servant leader that this country has been waiting for.
Lately, the entire space has been dominated with verbal wars between the APC and the PDP, with little emphasis on development and real issues. Do you think Nigerians have allowed themselves to be distracted?
Yes indeed, it is a huge and disastrous distraction. The current scenario exposes the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of our powerful elite. The other day, I found myself in a crucial meeting in Abuja with some of the topmost political gladiators in this country. The meeting went on for hours. I did not say a word. I tried to listen and to absorb as much as I could about what was going on. After the meeting ended, I felt like weeping. Would you believe? There was no single discussion about policy – about how to take our country forward. Everybody was fixated with their own puny ambitions – position and power. I am sorry to say that I left the place feeling that I had just escaped from a pack of jackals. These people have nothing to offer Nigeria. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that they are wicked and diabolical. But they are worse than you imagine. We need a new generation of leaders who hold this country dearly in their hearts. I have read the greatest works of political theory, from Kautilya to Ibn Khaldun, Machiavelli and Cardinal Richelieu and I know that we live in the real world. For me, what matters is to keep one’s eyes on the prize and to build a coalition that will create a veritable momentum for national transformation. I am a realist without illusions. I want to build a new Nigeria. I am the leader this country is waiting for. And I will serve the people with wisdom, truth, justice, reason, and above all, love. I stand on the shoulders of the venerable Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
Just about 43 per cent of registered voters participated in the 2015 presidential election and it’s assumed that candidates of the new parties would target those who don’t participate in elections. How do you intend to influence them to vote and then vote for you?
On the level of participation, I am inclined to believe that this time is different. Nigerians are on edge. People are angry. They have been traumatised. We are today the world capital of poverty, with 88 millions of our people categorised among the destitute poor. Some 22 millions of our people are jobless. Youth unemployment is hovering above the 70 per cent mark in Borno, Yobe and Zamfara states. People are dying. Because of these grim realities, people are more determined than ever before to exercise their franchise and I can reveal to you that we have great national appeal. In the homeland of the incumbent president, I have considerable support among the youth. In Kano, Enugu, Ebonyi, Akwa Ibom, Ogun and elsewhere, support for us is spreading like wildfire. We shall continue our campaign. We did not defraud government and have no stolen billions stashed away somewhere with which to bribe the electorate. But we know that we can count on their support because they know what is best for them and for the future of their children.
How would you summarise your agenda for Nigerians if you emerge as the president?
Our vision of a new Nigeria is anchored on the four interacting pillars of Peace, People, Power and Prosperity; (the 4Ps). The first pillar, Peace, is premised on the conviction that without peace and harmony, nothing of worth can be achieved. But an enduring peace must go with justice and security. The second pillar, People, is about human capital, job-creation, skills, education, literacy, welfare and universal access to health care. The third pillar, Power, is about enhancing universal access to electricity for all. Linked to this development is our physical infrastructure, without which our economy cannot fulfil its potentials. The final pillar, Prosperity, is about economic development and structural transformation of the economy. We are committed to building a trillion dollar economy that will ensure jobs, welfare and prosperity for all. We have a comprehensive strategy to reinvent our country as a prosperous democracy through a mass agro-based industrial revolution that will create over 20 million jobs in the coming decade while lifting some 40 million of our people out of poverty. We shall frontally confront the demons of insecurity; we shall fix the power challenge and the infrastructure deficits; we shall ensure food security; we shall enhance welfare and human livelihood; and we shall build a new nation through restructuring, constitutional re-engineering, dialogue and nation building. We shall develop a comprehensive system approach to tackling corruption instead of the current futile fire-fighting approach. We shall reinvent government as a developmental servant of state that serves the common good of all Nigerians. And we are going to do things differently. All members of the cabinet and heads of ministries, departments and agencies of government will have performance contract. We shall also institute within the heart of government a strategy team to monitor and drive implementation of our core programmes. We shall form a government of the people totally different from the nepotistic contraption that currently seats on Aso Rock like the proud and shameless Harlot of Babylon.
Nigerians have been craving for constant power supply, how do you plan to fix that problem?
The main problem with the power sector is the fact that it remains a highly centralised operation. What we need to do is to decentralise the power chain and our immediate focus will be on completing the outstanding projects on power generation while tackling structural bottlenecks surrounding distribution. We favour a decentralised, modular approach in which states, working severally or as regions, can cooperate to generate and distribute power on a regional basis. The Federal Government will play a steering role, but need not be the dominant or exclusive monopoly. The policy of the African Democratic Congress is to provide electricity for all. This policy entails electrification of the whole country. The average household enjoys only 6.5 hours of electricity on a daily basis. Our policy is to ensure universal access within four years. When the ADC takes over in May 2019 we shall issue an Executive Order requiring that all government buildings at federal, state and local government levels must have off-grid electrical power systems installed on them. We are considering, principally, solar panels that we believe can easily be installed in all government buildings, including schools and clinics. This is of course not a complete solution to the power problem. But it will reduce the deficit by a considerable margin while boosting productivity and efficiency. We can only imagine what a boost it would be for rural schools and for rural clinics. A major issue facing the power sector is political capture by vested interests. Those who are engaged in importation of generators will do anything to kill the power sector. Some of these people have held key political appointments, and ironically, were even involved in implementing our national power policy. They chose to implement in a way that would ensure the power sector does not work, thereby creating opportunities for generator importation. Today, Nigeria has the dubious prize of being the world capital for importation of generators. These generators not only create the externalities of environmental and noise pollution; they feed into the diesel-importation cartel and Nigerians are the worse for it.
Within four years we intend to upscale power distribution to at least 20,000 MW while boosting distribution by 100 per cent. 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. Part of the problem with this vital sector is theft and vandalisation of electrical equipment. We shall institute maximum punishment for such crimes. We shall declare a state of emergency in the power sector. We shall also invest in research and innovation in the power sector. We shall work with our universities not only to research alternative energy sources but also to train a new generation of hands-on electrical engineers. We shall also launch a major research programme on nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. We shall be open to all ideas and all feasible solutions that enable our citizens to enjoy the benefits of electrical power. We shall set up a Situation Room that will monitor and regularly report on progress in implementation on a monthly, quarterly and annual basis. Obstacles discovered will be isolated and tackled. We will think outside the box.
In the security sector, how do you intend to make Nigeria safe for all, especially when you don’t have military background?
Let me correct that impression. Many people do not realise that I actually began my career as a Research Fellow of the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru. I worked on issues of military strategy and defence policy. I can give any General a run for his money in matters concerning military strategy. I used to lecture occasionally at Royal College of Defence Studies London, as I have at Defence and Staff College Jaji and National Defence College, Abuja. The greatest challenge facing our country today is security. If it is not Boko Haram, it is armed rural herdsmen militias; and if it is not armed robbery it is kidnappers. Nigeria has become the kidnapping capital of the world. We are not only a society where banks and bullion vans are waylaid by daredevil armed robbers; rural banditry has become so rampant that life in our agrarian countryside has become, in the words of the English political philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, “nasty, brutish and short”. Nobody is safe. We on our part are staunchly committed to securing the common peace by tackling the insurgency and demobilising the armed bandits to ensure that our people live in peace and without fear. To enhance the security of our people we must modernise the police service in Nigeria; giving them better equipment and enhanced training in detecting, countering and prosecuting crime. We plan to decentralise the police service and develop a state police service so as to bring them closer to the people for more effective law enforcement. We must dig deep into the roots and causes of crime. We are particularly committed to the model that has worked so well in Tunisia, where greater emphasis is placed on intelligence gathering to nip crime in the bud before it rears its ugly head.
We are also committed to building a virile and modern army. We see the Israel Defence Forces as a model some of whose elements can be applied to our situation. We need a better trained, more disciplined and better equipped military that will defend our people and secure our sovereign territorial integrity as a nation. We need to create a military-industrial complex and we are also committed to building a new security architecture for our country. The existing agencies will be streamlined to ensure that they work in concert and in a coordinated fashion rather than in their current anarchic and rivalrous manner. In addition, we shall create a new force of Forest Guards, to be largely recruited from local communities. Their role will be to patrol rural communities and ensure that rural bandits are apprehended and brought to justice. We shall patrol our borders more actively to ensure that criminal armed bandits will not gain untrammelled access across our borders.
Corruption has been identified as the major bane of Nigeria’s development, how do you intend to combat and reduce, if possible, eliminate this problem?
It is well known that corruption retards human development. When public officials steal funds targeted at social programmes such as education and health, they rob people of the opportunity to improve their life-chances. According to the World Economic Forum, there is an inverse correlation between corruption and national competitiveness. Corruption undermines democracy, distorts markets, increases risk in commercial dealings, scares investors and erodes societal trust while grand corruption can also threaten long-term economic stability. I am not at all impressed by the fire-fighting and highly partisan approach of the current administration in fighting corruption. Tackling endemic corruption requires much more than dawn raids by intelligence service officers. It requires that the anti-corruption agencies map out a strategy and roadmap for their efforts. It requires research, painstaking analysis and high level intelligence gathering skills. When we form a people’s government in May this year, we shall institute a new anti-corruption court. It may well require integrating the EFCC with ICPC into a super-organisation headed by an anti-corruption tsar. The new organisation should be given judicial powers to arrest, prosecute and sentence. A few countries in Africa and the emerging world have made considerable progress in anti-corruption. We can learn a lot from such countries as Ethiopia, Botswana, Namibia, Uganda and Rwanda. These countries have created strong national supreme audit institutions that have served as a bulwark against corrupt behaviour. In addition, they have put in place instruments for monitoring and evaluation of government programmes in a manner that ensures accountability for results and impact. Some of these countries have also enshrined the principles of judicial review in their administrative laws so as to ensure that all actions of public officials can be subject to judicial scrutiny. We need to imbibe those lessons in redesigning a more comprehensive and more strategic approach to fighting corruption. It is also estimated that Nigerian nationals have assets in excess of $200bn, most of it stolen and stashed away in foreign bank vaults. We have no hope of ever recovering our stolen patrimony because of the intricate laws underpinning property rights, in addition to the self-interests of the host states. Our best hope is to declare a two-year amnesty by which those who have stolen our wealth would be free to repatriate to our country. No questions would be asked. However, after the expiration of the amnesty major steps will be taken to prosecute and imprison such people until they take steps to forcibly return the funds. Just 50 per cent of such stolen funds could be an untold boom if invested in our economy. We need an approach that is both wise and pragmatic.
There has been discourse around the issue of restructuring. What is your stand and what are your plans in that regard?
We are committed to restructuring. But we are committed to restructuring as democrats and patriots, unlike those who are using it as a vehicle to dismember our federation. I believe in the Nigeria Project. And I believe we can make our country work better when we reform our warped federal structure. We are therefore going to approach the restructuring agenda from the viewpoint of nation building, which entails mobilising all the youth and people of this country – men and women, rich and poor. The government and leadership must reflect our diversity while the task of economic development must embrace every region and every section of our country; giving people a sense of belonging and hope. Our ultimate commitment is to ensure the restructuring of our federation in a manner that allows genuine federalism to flourish. Those who fear restructuring are mainly those who have enjoyed unjustified privileges as a result of the illegitimate military-inspired constitution that has given them financial and other privileges at the expense of the rest of our country. Despite all this, the North remains the most impoverished region in our country. The incidence of poverty is as high as 92 per cent in Zamfara, compared to 35 per cent in Lagos State. Youth unemployment is as high as 70 per cent in Sokoto State as compared to 10 per cent in Ogun State. Disease, illiteracy and youth drug addiction define the anatomy of poverty in Northern Nigeria. Redesigning the structure of our federation is not to punish and worsen the social conditions of our Northern brethren. We must be committed to assisting them overcome poverty, disease, illiteracy and destitution. We must reinvent Nigeria as a conscionable and compassionate country that is genuinely committed to progress and happiness of all its citizens. We are going to hold a referendum and agree on a road map for the restructuring agenda. Nobody will be left out and no one will be left feeling that the whole thing is an insidious plot to shortchange them.
Would you say fixing Nigeria is a tough task or it’s not as difficult as past leaders make it seem and could be done with ease by any determined person?
I can tell you a secret. I have travelled to almost 100 countries. I have been to most parts of Europe, Africa, North America and Australasia. There is no place that fills me with goose bumps when I think of it than our beloved fatherland. Sadly, there is a lot of wickedness in Nigeria. I do not discount this. During this electoral-political cycle, politicians will be sponsoring Mallams and Babalawos to sacrifice infants and virgins for them to gain power and position. This is what many of the rampaging kidnappers and killers are into nowadays. But I have also met many wonderful Nigerians. Believe it or not there are saints in this country. There are angels in this country. They are few, but they are there. And they are crying before the throne of grace every day and every night for God to have mercy on our country. I would not say that Nigeria is a particularly difficult country to govern. Nigerians can often behave like children. Children watch what you do, they do not listen to what you say. Most Nigerians have the audacity to behave in the way an evil leader is behaving, not the empty preaching he does. If Nigerians find a servant leader who governs with righteousness and justice, they will fall into line. At the risk of repeating myself ad infinitum, let me remind you again: I am the leader that this country has been waiting for since the past decades. I am the one!
The Coalition of United Political Parties and the Peoples Democratic Party are calling for Mrs Amina Zakari to step aside based on her alleged blood relationship with President Muhammadu Buhari. What is the stand of your party on this?
I have never met Mrs. Amina Zakari. I have no clue as to whether or not she is related to President Muhammadu Buhari by blood or anything else. But she seems to be quite a controversial person. I recall that she came under first consideration for appointment as INEC boss, until the media raised the alarm. My schoolmate, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, was then announced as INEC chairman. He was a mate of mine at Oxford University in England. I have great respect for him as an academic and public servant. I consider him to be a friend. But if truth be told, his appointment was rather odd. The much-criticised Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, who hails from the South-South was prudent enough to appoint Professor Attahiru Jega from Kebbi as INEC chairman. That is the way it has been. In appointing Mahmood Yakubu as INEC boss from the same core Muslim North as himself, Buhari raised a lot of eyebrows. Do not get me wrong. Yakubu is competent and highly accomplished. But political wisdom and transparent honesty required that someone from other than the core of the president’s sphere of influence should have been appointed. So, the issue of Amina Zakari is part of a larger problem that casts a humongous shadow over the impartiality of the electoral umpire. Many things have happened that do not give us comfort. Many people were never able to register for their voter cards. I personally witnessed expectant mothers queuing up from 4am just to register but they could not. Some ended up bribing INEC officials before they could get registered. Whereas, we are told, in places like Kano and Katsina states, the same officials were taking the machines to people’s homes to get them registered. This is a crass abuse of the spirit of our democracy and such evil will not stand.
There are people who believe that candidates of the new parties, like you, have not extended their campaigns to all the states, especially the rural areas, like the main parties are doing. What’s your strategy to win the election?
I’m afraid, what you have said is not completely accurate. Yes, it is true that our reach has not been comprehensive enough. But we are doing our best. We have reached several rural areas. But you must also realise that ours is a huge country. The logistics of reaching every nook and cranny of our country is a rather daunting task. What is good about our party, the ADC, is that we are fully represented in the 36 states plus Abuja; and we are fully represented in all the 774 local governments and the thousands of electoral wards. We have robust presence, even if we cannot boast of brick and mortar everywhere. Our strategy for winning is to continue to do more and more. We are engaging particularly with women and youth. They are the backbone and pillar of our campaign. And so far, we feel greatly encouraged.
How confident are you of winning the forthcoming election?
All power comes from the Almighty. We are going to do our best, leaving nothing to chance. But after doing our utmost, we shall hand-over the rest to God. We entrust ourselves to Him and to the goodwill, wisdom and charitableness of the great Nigerian people. Putting my trust in hard work, God and the Nigerian people gives me great comfort. I am not saying I am more knowledgeable than any of my competitors. But I know the grace and anointing I carry. We have what it takes to lead this country to a new path of greatness and I am persuaded that we shall win. Nothing good comes easy, as the hackneyed expression goes. We are going to give it our fullest shot and we intend to win. Our time has come. To echo the medieval Jewish sage, Rabbi Hillel: “If not us, who and if not now, when?”