By Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye
Presidential candidate of the Labour Party (LP), Peter Obi on Arise News TV programme, The Sunday TalkShow, spoke on various issues including his efforts to win the forthcoming election and crisis following the redesigning of the nations Naira.
How has the campaign been?
What I have done is to concentrate on trying to go round and visit all over Nigeria. trying to listen and tell Nigerians on the need why they should vote for me and what the Labour Party is offering them. So that’s my concentration now, going to places where people have not been before, what you can call the ungoverned places, that a new Nigeria is possible. We can all come together, sacrificing everything – issues of time, issues of religion, and other sentiments and let’s come together and say, we have a country called Nigeria. And that we can start building.
Some papers today (Sunday) quoted you as saying that the currency redesign, which is causing a lot of concerns among Nigerians is not peculiar to Nigeria. And that they should bear with the Federal Government. But these same Nigerians can’t have access to the new Naira notes whether at the banking halls, or the ATMs, or through POS, or through cash swap programme. In fact, it’s so bad that people have gone to the streets in parts of Nigeria to protest and you still say this is a good policy? And the President has said give me seven days, we’ll look at the problem?
Well, I don’t think you understand my position but let me restate the position. Currency redesign is not peculiar to Nigeria. This is an exercise with a long term economic and social benefits, but comes with a short term, inconveniences and pain. And my appeal still to Nigerians is that we should have patience with the Federal Government of Nigeria while at the same time appealing to Central Bank of Nigeria and the banks, to expedite actions that will ensure that this new currency is available to small depositors, small businesses, the unbanked and people in rural areas. Mine is to make it available to people at the bottom of the ladder. And this I believe the CBN can make available as quickly as possible. Everywhere there has been redesign of currency, in a third world country that I have known, it comes with riots and more.
Look at what happened in India, it was worse than what is happening here. There were riots and everything all over the place. But eventually, Indians will tell you today that they are better off and their economy benefited.
It’s worrisome at times when things happens in this country. This thing was announced on the 26th of October, 26 of November was a month, 26th of December was the second month, 26th of January was the third month, and they even gave extra 10 days but all of a sudden, people are rioting up and down. People are behaving as if it came overnight. It didn’t come overnight.
For me, it is the poor people that I am seeing on the queue that we should deal with as quickly as possible. And I urge CBN to deal with this issue of those small depositors and people who are living in rural areas, the unbanked, make it available for small businesses to be able to thrive. It is critical, it is important. But I am also urging Nigerians, bear with them. We have redesigned our currency, we can’t do anything about it now. For me, it is a policy, Government has taken a decision, we can’t be using two currencies at the same time, can we? Or the new ones are out and in people’s hands, or you going to withdraw and start using the old ones? So, for me the decision has been taken, let’s run with it.
Is good you said currency redesign is not new. You have cited the example of India in November 2016. Under Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. In fact, the Indian authorities at the time gave four hours notice for 1000 rupees, 500 rupees to be brought back into the system.
Ours is three months.
Before then, in 1984, under the same President Buhari, when he was a military Head of state, he gave 12 days. In fact, there is a popular song about Kollington Ayinla, he sang about the hardship in Nigeria. This time around, we’ve over 100 days and we’re having a repeat of 1984. Why is it we never get it right here? And how will this policy in your view, move us from consumption to production, which is your major campaigns message?
Well, that is a different message. The redesign like I said has long term effects of what they are trying to do. But when it causes your consumption to production, I have said consistently that Nigeria isn’t producing anything. That is why we have all the economic problems we are facing, starting from unemployment. We have today almost over 50 percent youth unemployment. There are millions of youths who don’t know where the next meal will come from. That is at the core of your poverty. Because UN said there are 133 million Nigerians living in multi dimensional poverty. It is because of lack of production and it is the name of your economic growth. These are the consequences and you have to deal with it. We’re not producing anything. And we’re not talking about production; the easiest way to show that you’re not a producing country, is to look at your exports. Look at your food production.
Our country is 200 million people living on 923,000 square kilometers of land; 60 percent of arable land, are uncultivated and you are importing food, it shouldn’t be.
India is 1.4 billion people living on 3.2 million square kilometers of land, they’re able to feed themselves and export agricultural products. You live on almost 1/3 of the land and you’re 1/7 of their population. So you have more land for agriculture. So we need to deal with the issue of the uncultivated land in the North; it is our biggest physical assets. If you go into it, genuinely supporting small farmers to do an agrarian revolution, which will lead to industrialization because the entire value chain, which will be export led, you will see a different thing. One is that, you are going to create job at the agricultural level, you’re going to create job at the industrial level and by the time you do export, you’ll be able to deal with the issue of what you are suffering today due to the vestige.
The exchange is weak because your reserve is low and your reserve is as a result of your exports. And if you can export more, because of what I just said now, you will be able to stabilize. Countries have seen their exchange come down by doing the right things and Nigeria can actually do that.
I have said it before, in 2021 Nigeria‘s total export was N18.9 trillion, that is at N650 to the dollar today, that is under $30 billion. Countries I have compared us with like Vietnam is 100 million people living in 331,000 square kilometers of land. So they have over population living on 1/3 of our land, their total export is about $350 billion. We couldn’t do 10% of what they did. And Vietnam’s export is almost 90% manufactured goods. That’s what I’m saying. That we need to be more productive. By being more productive, we’ll be able to create jobs. There’s a lot we can do today if we do the right things.
Yesterday (Saturday), you were in Abeokuta for a rally. You were supposed to also be in Ibadan but you couldn’t make it to Ibadan because there were protests on the streets of Ibadan.
I didn’t even know about the protest until maybe…let me tell you what happened. Actually, first I had an issue. I was supposed to go to Ibadan using a service of an helicopter. And I was told they had an issue of fuel. By the time they later resolved it, it was about 12, 1pm. They said to be where I was supposed to land, I shouldn’t land there because there was riot. Nobody told me what they were rioting for. I said okay fine. Let me go in, maybe if I go there and if I see the situation is unsafe, I will go. I eventually arrived Ibadan, but unfortunately for me where I arrived, I couldn’t see the necessary security to escort me to where I was going. I said, well, listen, I can’t just be going, I didn’t even know the address of where I was going. So it was difficult and so I decided to go back, and I apologize, most sincerely to those who were waiting for me there. And I’m trying to see what I can do to have a new date to be able to go back there. Because is not good that people were waiting for you and you did not show up, I did everything to show. But it was beyond me.
Well, the protest in Ibadan was about scarcity of Naira notes, fuel scarcity which the country faces. Now this fuel scarcity, the midstream and downstream petroleum resources, Regulatory Authority, have said, NNPC now has up to 1.6 billion liters. But one question that people have been asking is that will this problem of scarcity be solved by the removal of subsidy and also local production by local refineries? What do you think?
Well, you know, everyone knows my stand on fuel subsidy. Subsidy needs to go as quickly as possible, because for me, it’s an organized crime. But in doing so, we must put in place progressive effort to ensure that the local refineries start functioning as quickly as possible. Dangote’s own is almost completed, and we have other modular refineries, all over the place. Some are even ready but they can’t get supply of crude. So these are things we have to resolve as quickly as possible, and get production locally to commence in order to reduce the suffering of Nigerians.
Just like I said, about the currency redesign, let’s do whatever we can do to ensure that less privileged people do not suffer any longer in Nigeria. They are suffering a lot. For me, the government energy should be on protecting and serving the less privileged, small businesses. That is critical.
In Abeokuta, you were campaigning on your record as governor of Anambra State for eight years. The presidential candidate of the APC went to Akwa recently, and said he has read the Bible, and that Peter in the Bible, betrayed Jesus Christ three times. And Peter Obi who is from this Anambra State will betray Nigerians. He called you Mr. Stingy, that you said you were saving money, that Nigerians need a man who will deploy resources to spend to achieve results, to be president and not somebody who will sit on resources. This is an attempt to, tag you and make the issue of stinginess stick on you permanently. What’s your response to that?
Well, Bola Tinubu remains, a very respected Senior brother any time. So he has a right to his opinion. But he forgets that even when Peter denied Jesus three times, he still made him the head of the church. He still built the church on him. He is the rock on which he built the church. That means that notwithstanding the denial, God found him worthy to build that rock and I’m saying entrust this country to me, I will rebuild it. It will be the same rock in which we will rebuild this country. As regards stinginess, because we don’t know what is called capital formation. For you to develop, it is a critical thing. Go and read for most economists over the years, capital formation is about saving. If you don’t save, you can’t fall back on capital. And if you don’t have capital, you can’t develop.
I was number one in MDG which is the only measure of development. The difference between developed and undeveloped places is education and health. I was number one in education. I was one of the best in health. I was number one on the issue of pulling people out of poverty, you can go ask Magnus Kpakol, who was in charge then and everything.
Ask all the donor agencies who comes first to contribute his counterpart funding, it is me. And on top of that, what everybody is owing salary, pension, gratuity, contractors, which had collapsed all the contractors, I left office not owing one contractor or supplier, not owing pension or gratuity. I ended up saving over N75 billion which nobody has ever done. I did not in any way allocate to myself any contract directly or indirectly. I did not allocate to myself any land directly or indirectly or become a consultant to any of the companies, state agencies or anything. I wasn’t even entitled to any gratuity or pension to date.
So yes, I agree, Peter denied Jesus three times. He showed remorse, he repented, and Jesus entrusted the church to him and I am asking Nigerians to entrust Nigeria to me.
The governor of Kaduna state, Nasir El-Rufai, said nobody should take you serious because you will not win. And you are best enough a Nollywood actor. He said you can’t score more than 1% in Sokoto, 2% in Katsina and maybe 5% In Kano . And that you should focus on Nollywood?
Well, “I thank El Rufai for what he said. At least he gave me some percentage. So I am going to work hard to improve on the percentage. And he recognised the fact that I am an actor. And I think part of what is holding this country from developing is not developing those engines that would develop us. One of the critical places I want to focus on is improving our entertainment industry which includes the Nollywood. Now that I am an acclaimed actor, I am asking those who are involved in the entertainment industry, being one of them to support me so that I can improve their position.
What else can you do when people have recognised me as one of them, I ask them to support me so that we will be able to develop their business better.
There have been reports of defections of people from your party or other parties in Bauchi and Jigawa. Just as it is now; the election is in a matter of days, the presidential election. How are you addressing this defection in your party?
Quite frankly, I’m focused on building a new Nigeria not on defections. For me today, Nigeria has a huge problem. We live in a country today that has huge debts that we don’t know where we’re going to start dealing with it. We have a country, 133 million people are living in poverty. We have a country with over 20 million out of school children, how do you now worry about who is defecting to what? How do we stop pulling people out of poverty? How do we start securing people? People are insecure. So that is not what is worrying me. For example, you mentioned where people are defecting in the North where I will get one vote, two votes. I went to Bauchi and I went to pay my respects to Tafa Balewa and I asked why did God not give us men like this over the years? This man in 1964 borrowed our first loan $82 million to build Kainji dam to generate 760 megawatts of electricity; 59 years after our debt is N77 trillion.
I don’t know which rate to use. But since my own rate is N650 but if I use the government rate of N410, am I right? That will give you about $187 billion. That $82 million then approximately now is about $1.250 billion. If you divide with $187 billion, it will give you approximately today about 150 Kainji dams. Where is it? That is what should be worrying Nigerians not who is defecting from where to where. A new Nigeria is possible. That’s what Datti Baba Ahmed and myself are offering Nigerians. It is time to do a proper generational change by saying these parties have tried. For the past 20 years, all Nigeria produces is, insecurity worsen, poverty doubled, out of school children worsen, our primary healthcare collapsed, debts I don’t know what to say, I would say quadruple down. Everything headed south. We have overtaken India in infant mortality, fuel scarcity, all sorts of things are going wrong. So for me, our concentration should be how do we start reversing this? That’s what we should do. I am offering myself for this joy, saying this year’s election should not be based on tribe, religion or my turn. It is the turn of Nigeria to take back their country and start rebuilding it. If there’s anybody who will say it is my turn, it is me. I am a proud Igbo man, I’m a South easterner. But I’m doing this election more as a proud Nigerian, who believes that if I have the opportunity, in five years, Nigerians will stop saying where they came from, but they will be happy that they are Nigerians. Because we will start rebuilding a new Nigeria that everybody should be proud of, that is what should be our worry. Not that oh, this happened? Or this person defected, for me let that slide.
You have visited many parts of the country on campaigns but many Nigerians are concerned on whether or not this election will hold. INEC has said, the election dates are sacrosanct and there will be elections. But other people are saying, the combined forces of fuel scarcity, cash scarcity, seem to be an attempt to derail the process and impose an interim national government on Nigeria?
Well, I don’t really see how cash scarcity affects that. Is cash now their voters card? That is the more reason they should go out and vote. Let’s start doing things differently. So, I don’t see any reason why cash scarcity… unless the cash can be used for another thing which I disagree with. Let’s stop dribbling Nigerians about, Nigeria is a country blessed with a lot of endowment for each region and can easily be turned around as quickly as possible. It is time for people, if the election should be on character we can trust, on competence, commitment and above all, compassion for the suffering masses of Nigeria. This year’s election should be about those who have the combined mental and physical capacity to deal with this job. Let us not was our time trying to say oh, we’ll go this way, having these considerations, whether it’s tribe, religion. All those who used all these to come into office, their first victims are those who believed them. I am offering a new Nigeria.