Mr Peter Obi, the immediate past governor of Anambra State, is a honorary adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan. Obi shares his perspective on the 2015 polls in this interview.
We overheard the Vice President introduce you as the Deputy Director General (South), comprising the South West, South East and South South of the presidential campaign organisation, which is why you are here as part of the reconciliation team of the PDP for Lagos.
Are you satisfied with the outcome of the reconciliation meeting?
Yes I am. I thank Vice President Namadi Sambo, who led the peace talks and also thank and congratulate the people of the state for their maturity. Mr Vice Vice President spoke to the party members like a father, and everybody in the PDP family agreed with him on the need to close ranks and work together.
What is your reaction to the the statement of Governor Rotimi Amaechi, the Director General of Gen Buhari’s campaign, that the APC supports mutiny?
The statement, if it is true, is unfortunate and least expected of a public officer of his status. I have always maintained that leaders in corporate and public life should strive to maintain exemplary character and behaviour that is worthy of emulation. Their pronouncements and disposition must be responsible, devoid of abusive, or inciting words that could undermine the moral fabric of the society.
On this same issue of security in particular, lives have been lost by the civilian populace and military personnel. That is why public figures must be sensitive to these things and show signs of serious social responsibility at all times. We are expected to speak with restraint and decorum, knowing that we can make or mar society. At all times and in all climes, issues of security are left in the hands of security agents and we must show utmost understanding of the dynamics of security.
Do you agree that Buhari has the capacity to stop Boko Haram if elected?
Gen. Buhari, as a respected, retired general and as an elder statesman, does not need an invitation, an appointment or an elective office to intervene on any national issue, especially issues of national security like the one facing the country at the moment. Elder statesmen all over the world do not wait to be invited before they step forward on matters of grave concern to their fatherland.
President Jonathan is running round sleeplessly and working with security agencies, in addition to forging bilateral ties to solve these problems. He will certainly be very glad to receive any suggestions from Buhari and I can assure you that Nigerians will be glad if he helps solve the problem as an elder statesman. He has said that he will summon a meeting of serving and retired generals to help solve the problem if elected, but he does not need to be elected to do so.
But some people are saying that he can deal with Boko Haram, the way he dealt with the Maitatsine unrest decades ago.
I have read in some places where the APC said that because Buhari stopped Maitaitsine in the 80s, he will also stop Boko today. I disagree entirely with this claim, because the stable global environment of the 80s cannot be compared with the volatile and terror-enveloped global environment of today. The socio-religious realities that threw up the Maitaisine group are different from the realities that threw up Boko Haram.
In the 80s, most countries were stable, but today the global instability, cutting across nations like Iraq, Syria and the Middle East, has created a labyrinth of terror. This is in addition to our African neighbours, , like Libya, Egypt, Somalia, Sudan, Kenya, Tunisia and others, which are all facing various forms of instability and terrorist activities. The level of sophistication in technology and military hardware is also totally different today. No one would have ever imagined in the 80s that terrorists would go into the US and bomb the World Trade Centre, or attack the Pentagon. But we all saw it happen.
These are realities that need to shape our understanding of the world of today. What is happening has a global coloration, because the ISIS flag is the flag you see with Alshaba in Somalia and Boko Haram in Nigeria. You can now see why we cannot compare yesterday with what we are seeing today. Who would have thought that Nigerians would turn into suicide bombers?
What do you say about the fate of the Naira?
Most comments about the condition of the Naira are made out of ignorance. It needs the understanding of macro-economic realities to understand what is happening in the world today. The depreciation in the exchange rate is a worldwide phenomenon, fueled by the fall in oil prices and other elements of the increasing global economic and security challenges. Hardest hit are countries that export petroleum products.
Talking about the fall in the value of the Naira, look at what is happening in Russia and other places. In just a year, the Russian rouble lost 40% of its value. The Venezuelan currency even lost more than that. The interesting thing about these countries is that they are not calling for the crucifixion of their leaders, rather, they are supporting them with an understanding that the problem will pass away.
The APC has said that Buhari is the best Nigerian leader ever, that he did it once and can do it again. What do you say about this?
FILE PHOTO: Nigeria’s president Goodluck Jonathan (L) and vice president Namadi Sambo wave to supporters during a presidential primary in Abuja, on December 10, 2014. AFP PHOTO
At the age of 41, which was 31 years ago, Buhari staged a coup d’état and removed the democratically elected government of Alhaji Shehu Shagari and tried visibly to instil discipline and order in our society. This was both commendable and his greatest achievement. But the economic policies and actions of that government were disastrous, as Nigeria nearly turned into a pariah nation that no one wanted to deal with globally.
At the time, under the Buhari’s government, confirmed Letters of Credit were rejected, because no one wanted to deal with Nigeria. Though I disagree that he was one of the best Nigerian leaders, even if we assume that he was the best 31 years ago, that is not the reason we should clone him back today at 72. The Singaporeans are not asking Lee Kwuan Yu to come back. Malaysians are not asking Mohamad to come back.
The Americans are also not asking Bill Clinton, who came to office ten years after Buhari’s first outing and who had the best economic performance in the 21st century, to come back. Are we saying that Nigeria has not produced anyone who can do the job today?
What exactly are you saying?
All I am saying is that no progressive country of the world, especially those we are trying to emulate, like the US, the UK, etc, have ever elected anybody above 70 years of age since the inception of democracy in their countries.
The oldest person ever elected in the US was President Reagan, who became president at 68. At that time, Americans were particular about his age. This is a nation with a life expectancy of over 100 years, as against Nigeria, with a life expectancy of about 60 years.
Towards the end of Reagan’s presidency, there were serious issues of stress and his ability to continue with the job. Few months after he left office, he could no longer recognise his wife. Let us cite examples of presidents of these countries I mentioned, all of whom came to power at least ten years after Buhari’s leadership of the country as Head of State. President Barack Obama was 47 when he took over, while George W. Bush was 54 and Bill Clinton 46.
It is almost the same for the UK where the current Prime Minister was 43 when he took over, while Gordon Brown was 56, Tony Blair 43 and John Major 47. To bring this closer home, our neighbouring Ghana has President John Mahama who started at 53. One can understand if he is in his 60s today. To further elucidate this, why do we have to retire our top military personnel and civil servants at 60, university lecturers at 65 and Supreme Court judges at 75.
Even the religious bodies now retire their leaders at the age of 70. Which is why the highly celebrated primate of the Church of Nigeria, Sunday Mbang, and Ola Makinde of the Methodist Church, as well as Cardinal Okojie of the Catholic Church, are now retired. These are people who are managing smaller segments of civil society.
In a world where a life-changing protest for democratic change, demanding for free and fair democracy without Chinese interference, was led by a 17-year-old boy in Hong Kong, APC is threatening to inflict a 72-year-old grandfather on Nigeria as president. Do you realise that the major companies of the world like doogle (1998), Yahoo (1994), Ebay (1995), Facebook (2004) and Alibaba (1999), were all founded by people under 40 years of age. Most of the captains of industry in Nigeria today are led by men and women who were in not yet in primary school 31 years ago, when Buhari’s was Head of State.
Gov. Amaechi also complained about Jonathan being responsible for the depreciation of the Naira
Again, this is case of people speaking either out of mischief or ignorance, or both. I speak of mischief here because even those with no knowledge of macroeconomics know why the Naira is depreciating. Currencies depreciate for a number of fundamental reasons, other than the actions of governments. The recent depreciation of major currencies of the world was more pronounced in countries with heavy dependence on oil.
The Russian rouble, for instance, lost over 45% of its value in four months and no one is blaming Putin for it, or asking that he should leave. Ours would have been much worse, but for President Jonathan’s diversification of the economy, especially in the area of agriculture which has saved a lot of savings in food importation.
Furthermore, the currencies of better or similar similar economies, like the Brazilian real, Argentina’s peso, Soth African rand and more have all depreciated by over 12 and 15% in the last one year. This is similar to what we have witnessed here and the people are not calling for the heads of their leaders. Coming nearer home, the Ghanaian cedi has equally depreciated by over 35%and no one has called for an end to the incumbent government.
The opposition also said Jonathan is incapable of fighting corruption and I need to hear your views on that allegation.
Well, everyone in Nigeria claims to be a saint and accuses others of being corrupt. We all read and also heard from those who were there what transpired at the APC presidential primary in Lagos. That is not corruption, right? While I agree that there is the need to strengthen institutions like the ICPC and EFCC, to fight the physical and more tangible forms of administrative corruption, there is also the far more fundamental need to fight corruption from its very roots.
What I mean here is the distortion of societal values, as can be seen for example where those who are role models are mostly some of worst among us. Honours and titles are often given to persons whose conduct and obscene exhibition of wealth set a bad example for the leaders of tomorrow. The best way to fight corruption realistically is to institutionalize the processes of governance.
You only need to look at how the reforms in the procurement and distribution of fertiliser have totally transformed everything, making fertiliser directly available to farmers and disbanding the cartel that held the system hostage before the Jonathan administration. It is the same with the pension reforms and the Sovereign Wealth Fund which have, respectively, created a more sustainable financial fall back position and blocked leakages in pension fund administration.
What is you take on who Nigerians should vote for in 2015?
The answer to that question is fairly obvious: Jonathan, Jonathan, and Jonathan. He has put the right policies in place and set the right processes in motion. He needs to continue and finish the good work he is doing now and that is why he should be voted in.
The reason you are asking this question is simply because his performance is under reported and even sometimes distorted by mischief makers. He will be a stronger and better candidate, when re-elected, as he follows through what he has started. Whatever challenges are on the ground today are being progressively overcome and will soon become things of the past. Vanguard