I want to save Nigeria and turn it into manufacturing country – Obi
….Reveals plans for IPOB, other agitators
Presidential candidate of the Labour Party (LP), Mr. Peter Obi has explained reasons behind his decision to run for president in the 2023 election.
Speaking as guest on a radio breakfast programme in Enugu, which was monitored by Saturday Sun, Obi said Nigeria was in a critical state and needed the citizens to take it back.
How has it been these couple of weeks that you’ve traversed Nigeria as Labour Party standard bearer?
For me, it is not an issue of being busy; it is the issue of trying to let Nigerians know that this country belongs to them and they must take it back. We must take it back to make sure that the country is united, the country is secure and it is productive. Because at this moment, we are insecure, we are not united and we are not productive. So, these are my commitments to get people to understand that we can turn into a great nation if only we do the right things.
There are so many problems bedevilling the country at the moment. Are you eager to be the president of the country given the circumstances that the Nigerian state finds itself in?
Not just eager to become president but eager to mobilise Nigerians. To mobilise Nigerians to take over their country and start doing the right things that would turn around their country.
It is not one person’s job. It’s a job you have to do with everybody around to start changing their conception, their perception of life, their values, education, everything. So, that is the eagerness. It is not just the eagerness to be president. It is eagerness to start following the right direction for the country.
Why the choice of Labour Party?
Well, it is not just the choice of the Labour Party. The party actually encompasses everything to do with what I’m talking about, because I want to move the country from consumption to production. And you can’t talk about production without labour. If you go and check the means of production, it is material, machine and labour. Labour being the most critical because no matter how you assemble resources, unless you have educated labour, you won’t get it right. Labour is the most critical because it directs all the machines and other resources that you make available. So, being in the Labour Party is like being part of it.
One of the major challenges you would face in the Labour Party is funding. What has been the case since you joined?
I think you encounter the issue of funding even if you stay in your house. You have to buy food, you have to do everything. So, being in the Labour Party, I’m sure mobilising Nigerians will make the funding not as difficult as it seems. What is important is to make people understand that it is not about me or any individual but about themselves. We want to make the country productive and when it is productive, everybody benefits from it. Go to every other part of the world where things are working, everybody is involved. It is not about me going to borrow money or to look for sponsors who will tomorrow be living off the resources of the state. I want the people to contribute in such a way that when we get there we don’t have to be owing anybody. We just have to use whatever available resources to start rebuilding our country.
Based on what we have, the debt profile is over N41 trillion. How will you tackle this challenge if you emerge president?
Nigerian debt is about N60 trillion. N40 trillion is what you see from the Debt Management Office (DMO). There are also ways and means for the Central Bank which is about N20 trillion. So, it’s about N60 trillion which is approximately $120 billion, which is today 30 per cent of our GDP. Huge debt but it is not impossible. The only reason it is worrisome is that the money was not rightly invested. There is nothing wrong with borrowing. Every nation in the world borrows. But when you borrow for consumption it becomes a problem. Everybody wants to go to America today. America owes almost 100 percent of its GDP. Their GDP is $21 trillion and they are owing $20 trillion. The same with Canada and Japan. Japan’s debt is 200 per cent of their GDP. So, every country is owing.
Do you intend to continue borrowing?
Nigeria will continue to borrow but borrow for investment. The first law I am going to put in place is that all borrowings must be for investment. If you borrow for investment, you will get it right. First time Nigeria borrowed money was in 1964. Tafawa Belewa wrote to the World Bank to borrow $82 million to build Kainji Dam to generate 760 megawatts of electricity and it’s still there. So, imagine if you use an equivalent of $82 million in 1964 till today it is about $1 billion. And we are owing $120 billion. So if they had borrowed then to generate 1000 megawatts of electricity, that means if we had spent 20 billion which is one sixth of our debt today in generating power, we would have been generating and distributing about 20,000 megawatts. If we were producing 20,000 megawatts of electricity today, our GDP will be growing at over 4 per cent.
Some people have criticised the investment you have made in a brewery and said that it hasn’t appreciated over time for Anambra State
They are only criticising one investment. You don’t criticise one and leave the other. Go and check the value of that investment in 2018. If you buy a property today in Enugu because things are stable, the prices will go up. But if there is a downturn in the economy, the value will go down. Investments go up and down and you can never say this is the value of an investment until you sell it. So, there is no value in savings. And that investment was meant to create jobs. Go there and see the amount of jobs and the tax paid to the government. The biggest tax payer to Enugu State now is the Nigerian Brewery. So, you don’t just do investment; some are to create employment and jobs. We had a target in Anambra State. We followed the MDG goals for 2015. We followed the SDG goals hoping that by 2030 we will have the resources to implement what is required.
What are your plans regarding insecurity in the country?
There are two means of fighting insecurity. The number one method is what we call natural security. You must pull people out of poverty. You can’t have millions of people living in poverty and you expect security. You can’t have millions of youth in their productive age doing nothing and expect security. You can’t shut down your schools and think you can go home and sleep. It’s been shown everywhere in the world that the more you pull people out of poverty, the more you reduce criminality. If you go to your village, there are people stealing because people are hungry. I’m talking about the country being productive. If they have something they are doing, they won’t have time for crime. I have been in prison and interviewed some kidnappers on the motive behind their action. And if you see how much they are given; some N20,000 and some N30,000. That means if they have a steady job, they won’t engage in such. And then you have to equip your security agencies properly. The number of security operatives we have in Nigeria is very low for the country. You also need to motivate them properly.
The APC candidate has chosen a Muslim and he too is a Muslim. Did you put in religion and ethnic considerations when you made the choice of Yusuf Datti Baba-Ahmed?
Everything was considered but above all, competence, merit and ability to complement me in what we are doing. I needed a younger person who shares my ideas, who understands my journey of turning this place to be a productive country and that’s what I did. But every other thing was considered. I said that priority should not be tribe, should not be religion but that doesn’t mean it should not be a consideration because when you come from a diverse country like ours where there are so many sensitivities, you have to make it inclusive. You have to tolerate each other. So, for me, everything was there.
What was the consideration when the Labour Party was in talks with NNPP regarding Kwankwaso being your running mate?
Kwakwanso did a lot on education; I was a champion of education. I moved Anambra from 26 to number one in the country. Anambra is most advanced in recent years. I believe the first infrastructure you have to build is human infrastructure not physical infrastructure.
You said Kwankwaso’s reason for not wanting to be your deputy is the same reason Nigeria has not moved forward. Someone who thinks like that, do you think he is in tandem with what you want?
No, what he said in terms of us working together is that the Northerners will not vote for a South Easterner. That doesn’t mean that we don’t share some similarities in terms of education. I said that people not voting for A because he is from B is the reason why Nigeria is where we are not. And I stand by that statement. You have to vote for people based on their competence. I don’t want people in the South East to vote for Peter Obi because he is from the South East.
I don’t want South South to vote for me because of any special consideration. I don’t want the North to vote for me because of any special consideration. I want them to vote for me because I am competent; because I am capable; because I know what I will do to turn around Nigeria. I tell you, whoever is coming after this administration is going to inherit a nation in a bad shape. But I have been a turnaround expert. I have turned around businesses that have failed.
Kwakwanso raised fears about the secessionist movement in the South East being the reason the North might be afraid to vote for anyone in the South East. How would you handle this agitation?
The South East is not the only place where there is agitation. There is agitation also in the South West. Igboho and his people are also agitating for a Yoruba state. We have problems in the North-East, Boko Haram and ISWAP. We have in the South South and North West. There are problems all over the place. But I have said it repeatedly; I will deal with all agitators decisively, through dialogue, engagement and then remove the criminals who are operating under this government and deal with them as criminals. It is something that you can achieve by engagement and dialogue. I am contesting elections as a Nigerian. I am a Nigerian, I believe in Nigeria and I want to change Nigeria. I know what it takes to change Nigeria. Because I know that it is a great country that I can make productive for the interest of everybody.
How do you intend to handle issue of structure so that Labour Party would have agents in all the polling units, bearing in mind the role money plays in politics?
Like I said before, I am urging the people to take back their country. So, money will not play that role you think it is going to play. The people now know that the people who are giving them money are actually the ones that are taking their money. The people will own it. This movement we are doing today, we are not giving anybody money. I am not giving anybody money because the people own it. What people talk of social media, when we go out in the streets now, you will see that it is not social media. I’ve been to places in Nigeria and you see that it is not social media. Let’s go out to the markets and you will see that it is not social media. I was at the airport this morning and those people are not on social media. The people know that they are in a country that is collapsing. This country today in terms of security is just next after Afghanistan and Somalia. We have met all the requirements of a failed state. We are no longer in control of our territory; we are no longer in control of our economy. So, it’s not going to be business as usual. The people will collect the money and still do the right thing.
You asked your supporters to tone it down on social media and a lot of people are saying that you are soft. And being soft is not the Nigerian brand of politics. What is your view?
Most of those people you see lashing out on other people are not my supporters. They are actually people who were paid to say these are his supporters. They now bring people who will be threatening war and everything. You are in the South East here, is there a war in Enugu here? Enugu is far more secure than most states in Nigeria. But the way to paint it is that when you come here, they have declared a war. There is no war. When our opponents declare war, we show them love. I am not in the politics of discussing people or quarrelling with people. I am in the politics of ideas.
If you do not win, will you accept an offer from Tinubu or Atiku to work with them in their administration?
Well, nobody has said that Peter Obi is not competent. He is competent in economics. What is Nigeria’s problem? If it is economy, why will you put on the bench a player that will start the match? This is the problem that I talked about before. You cannot see a pilot sitting down and you go and hire a driver. I am not looking for a job. I want to save Nigeria. Peter Obi wants to save Nigeria. I want to turn Nigeria into a production site where things are manufactured.
There is an App in circulation called the Peter Obi Nation. I don’t know if you are aware of this App. Is it from you?
I have never seen such. It is not from me. I don’t know what is in it. And it is not from any of my support groups. People will do everything to bring Peter Obi down. Just go and verify about Peter Obi and what he intends to do. And the earlier the youths believe in me and follow me, we would take back this country. You know those who live off the confusion will do everything. When you bring a change, you have an enemy; all those who live off the old order. I am bringing a new order, so many people will be my enemy.
What would be your response to Reno Omokri’s recent comments which could cause ethnic tension?
No, I am not campaigning based on ethnic background. I said do not vote for Peter Obi because he is an Igbo man. Vote for me because I am the most competent. I have shown you my credentials. I lived in the Western world and I made a success of it. I can show you. I was a businessman in the UK. By the time I left the UK, I have the highest credit record any UK citizen can get.
That is my proof that I can be trusted. I have the highest credit rating and it is documented. So, it is not a question of ethnicity. Nobody has said they found Peter Obi claiming what he did not do. I am the youngest chairman of a bank ever in Nigeria. Have you ever heard someone say it is not true? Have you ever heard anyone say I did not leave money in Anambra State? I have shown the bank; I have shown the statement. So, why do you leave all these things and be going to say ethnicity. I am not campaigning as an Igbo man. I am campaigning as a Nigerian. But I said let’s bring every other person in this race; that’s 18 of us. Let’s show our background. I was a businessman. And I can show my businesses. I have paid my taxes. I have done very well. Don’t listen to those who want to make it an ethnic thing because the people who are hiring me should look at my profile. Judge me on the criteria for the person who is coming for the job of president. Where am I coming from? Yes, I am an Igbo man. Other people come from different places. Another person will say he is a Nigerian but a Yoruba man. Another will say he is Nigerian but a Hausa man. Am I Igbo person? Yes, number one Igbo man, but I am campaigning as a Nigerian. You don’t ask the man who is piloting your plane where he comes from. Is he a qualified pilot? Yes. Nobody knows who is in that cockpit