My Government’s Policy Thrust If Elected President – Obi
Being the answers provided by the Labour Party (LP) Presidential Candidate, Peter Obi, to questions posed to him at Harvard, United States of America in the course of his ongoing consultations with Nigerians in Diaspora. His answers give copious insight into what governance will look like in Nigeria if Obi is elected Nigeria President in 2023.
How do you see yourself making a difference in Nigeria?
We will offer a new brand of transformative and purposeful leadership. Nigeria is not bereft of good governance ideas and plans. However, a combination of institutional weaknesses and lack of political will, meant that various policies and strategies are poorly implemented leading to poor outcomes for the people. Hence, the overall goal of my administration shall be to streamline governance, make it more responsive, transformative, effective, less transactional, and therefore efficient and cost-effective.
What kind of leadership do you hope to provide Nigerians?
Thinking through 2023 and beyond, we must think seriously about a leadership that is imbued with competence, capacity, credibility and commitment. Accordingly, we will pursue intangible assets of good governance, rule of law, security of lives and properties; we will ensure that we have these assets in place and stress asset optimization.
Africa has looked to Nigeria for leadership but has found it absent and wanting. What would you do to restore leadership?
Our foreign policy has always been Afrocentric. So, Africa will remain the centre-piece of our foreign policy. We will strike a strategic balance that allows us to promote and protect national interest, while meeting our ECOWAS obligations. We will rebuild Nigeria’s military power, promote economic growth, and enhance its technological prowess with a view to improving Nigeria’s diplomatic influence in sub-regional, regional and global affairs.
Restoring leadership will require that we reassert proactively, Nigeria’s leadership role in African affairs through constructive engagement, peacekeeping duties, and using existing sub-regional and regional forums as well as bilateral platforms for dialogue on current and emerging challenges. We will continue to enhance our sphere of influence via peacekeeping, and trade and investment initiatives.
The sense of being part of a united country has been eroded. How do you see yourself reuniting Nigerians?
Securing, uniting and making Nigeria productive require steady and trusted hands. We shall ensure that in moving Nigeria forward, no state or community will be left behind. Pursuant to its statutory responsibility to protect, our government will promote equity in power and resource sharing. There must be a renewed sense of patriotism; that will come through leadership by example.
Do you think that states and regions need more autonomy?
You are indirectly asking about restructuring. I consider restructuring a process, not a one-off event. Yes, if we have a real federation, the federating units will enjoy discernible autonomy. Resources will also be shared equitably. A higher derivation paid to oil or solid minerals producing states will not be tantamount to other states not receiving federal allocations that should keep them viable. We must transcend the rhetoric that bedevils a robust debate on some of these national questions.
In the past, the ethnic identity of the President has resulted in a preponderance of unqualified people being appointed to key position. How will you address this problem?
We will respect the principles of federal character, affirmative action and gender balance; but no longer at the expense of merit.
How do you propose to address the security challenges in the north and those of oil theft?
The relevant security institutions and agencies exist. The supporting national security enabling documents and strategies also exist. We will tweak the security architecture, which will entail reform of the security sector and governance. We will restructure, reequip and reorient the Nigerian Police: This will include three-level policing- Federal, state and community. We will build a compact, robust and ready Mobile Police Force with rapid response deployment capabilities; and legislate the establishment of state police based on community policing. We will raise the population to police officer ratio to a higher level.
There would be a properly manned, equipped and technologically driven security system with particular emphasis on re-focusing the military on external threats and border protection and police on internal security threats and law enforcement; swift prosecution of criminals, bandits and terrorists; enhanced coordination among security agencies; and upholding the rule of law.
We would integrate the activities of the National Intelligence and Security Agencies by establishing a central reporting intelligence loop under the authority the Minister of National & Homeland Security; Establish a National Command and Control Coordination Center for the efficient management of actionable intelligence, resource allocation and force deployment. Membership should consist of representatives of all security agencies on a need-to-know basis.
I believe in continuity in governance. But each extant policy must be considered and if need be, reviewed on its merit. The oil theft is not petty pilfering. It is organized crime by a syndicate that involves a certain degree of sophisticated intelligence and logistical arrangement. We must admit that oil theft is happening because there is domestic and external collusion. The government and the people have the collective responsibility to protect national assets. On my watch those responsibilities will be accorded high priority.
Foreign and National Security policy initiatives, might in the long term entail rebuilding, repositioning and sustaining ECOMOG, as the arrowhead of a West African Security partnership. This is to counter terrorist threats and international subversion of the sovereignty of the West African region of which Nigeria must reestablish her place as a regional power.
Will you be maintaining the policy of fixed exchange rates coupled with heavy government borrowing? Will you be adhering to the fiscal responsibility laws?
We will abide by the fiscal responsibility laws. Despite the exigency and convenience which the two-tier foreign exchange regime offers, it has become an albatross. Hence that arrangement will be critically reviewed, adjusted or even eliminated. We will explore ways of cushioning the forex demands by mainstreaming those components of Diaspora remittances that remain opaque and informal. With proper policy and planning, we can expect to boost and leapfrog the current $20 billion in remittances to $40b to $60b annually. That will translate to about 14% of our total GDP.
The youth have often felt left out in the country especially in the light of central Bank policies on tech companies. Will you reconsider these policies? How do you propose to address the brain drain?
We are challenged by high youth unemployment, which stands at 33.3%; 54% for the youth; and 20 million out-of-school-children. We must give this country back to the Nigerian youths. Half of our 200 million people are below the age of 30.
Harnessing our national youth strength and demographic dividends intelligently, must start with curbing the high youth unemployment and creating funding access to enable our youths become entrepreneurs and drivers of our Small and Medium Scale enterprises (SMEs).
We will work to bring down the unemployment rate to fewer than 20 percent over the next four years, if elected. Part of our objectives on the economy will be focused on supporting job creation given its impact on the economy as well as poverty alleviation.
We will review the legislation guiding the fund access modalities to Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), and the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund), to redress prevailing bottlenecks, create greater transparency, and ensure increased flexibility, and optimum availability of funds required to meet the educational need of the Nigerian students they are meant to serve.
We will explore ways and means of tapping in on technology transfer from the Diaspora; we will also explore ways of reversing the enormous brain drain that has been debilitating for our country. We will trigger every known technological and knowledge transfer initiators. Nigeria’s brain drain will be turned into brain gain.
Will the corrupt be allowed to keep their loot? How much focus will be given to probes?
We will have zero-tolerance for corruption; block leakages and cut the cost of governance. Our total commitment to transparency and accountability in government business is the only credible way to achieve limited to zero corruption.
The policies required to fight corruption already exist; it is the political will to implement them that has been lacking. My governance modalities have always been forward looking and will remain so. We will negotiate the return of our stolen national wealth from the custodial countries.
Will you be maintaining the subsidies on electricity and petroleum?
There are two elements of subsidy- the corruption component and the real subsidy component. The oil subsidy arrangement as it stands is fraught with criminality. It is unacceptable.
For the corruption, we will deal with decisively which will reduce the subsidy cost by over 50%. There will be weighted measures and counter-balance policies and programmes to cushion the impact of the removal of oil subsidy, if and when it is removed. The difference is that now, only some sacred and self-entitled few benefit from the oil subsidy. That narrative will change.
We will support local refining for domestic use and priced strictly in Naira. Starting with all government vehicles, we will transition to gas powered cars.
While we support private enterprises will you take measures to ensure that Nigeria does not get dominated by a small group of oligopolists and monopolists?
Free enterprise is about market forces and keen competition. These will occur at different levels. If we liberalize access to funding, SMEs will flourish; they have a role to play the giant companies no longer play.
We will enforce the legal framework protecting foreign investors and their indigenous partners. This is the only way to tamper monopoly and capital flight.
In respect of gender equality in business and politics, Nigeria is behind many African countries. Will you be taking this as a priority?
As governor of Anambra State, my administration achieved close to a 60-40 gender balance in appointive and elective positions. The national target has hovered around 30-35%. We intend to progressively aim for between 35-40%, with aggressive gender mainstreaming action plan and rigid benchmarks.
The Central Bank has lost the confidence of many inside and outside of Nigeria. What do you propose to do about this?
As part of our monetary policy, we will seek to reestablish the independence of the CBN; and commit to a credible and transparent plan to normalize the exchange rate and bring inflation to single digits.
We will remove import and forex restrictions and insist on a single forex market. The current system penalizes exporters who bring in forex by forcing them to sell at a rate that they are unable to source for forex when they need to purchase forex. This multiple exchange rate regime encourages capital flight and deters investment, which has further worsened Nigeria’s forex situation.
Do you see yourself deepening or reducing ties with China?
Our trade policies will always be predicated on what is in our best national interest. Trade partners who offer us comparative advantage will be considered. However, we will give primacy to our Africa Trade Treaty obligations.
Beneficiaries of China’s goodwill and investments in Africa are many. So too are the countries defaulting on their Chinese loans. The trend is deeply alarming. Salutary, as it may seem, we must approach such engagement with our national interest uppermost in our minds.
What policy will your administration have towards Russia and Ukraine?
We maintain very cordial relations with Russia and Ukraine. Evidently, this war, in conventional terms, will need to be resolved at the negotiations table. We support the cessation of hostilities agreement under the auspices of the United Nations.
As young people we are concerned with university education. What will you do about the ongoing strike by university teachers?
We will pursue the global best practices and standards within available resource. Certainly, in the medium and long term, 14% budgetary funding for education is within the realm of possibility. We will strive to be globally competitive by increasing funding ad ensuring that the (TETFund) resources are re-directed to funding of the Universities and other higher institutions robustly with a view to ending the perennial strikes by University Staff and workers.
What would be your top priorities on getting into office?
• Production-centered growth for food security and export;
• Securing and Uniting Nigeria;
• Effective legal and institutional reforms (rule of law, corruption and government effectiveness);
• Leapfrogging Nigeria from oil to the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR);
• Expanding physical infrastructure through market-driven reforms (unleashing growth-enabling entrepreneurship and market-creating innovations);
• Human capital development that empowers competitiveness; and
• Robust foreign policy that restores Nigeria’s strategic relevance.
How did Nigeria address the COVID challenge and what will you need to do to address future epidemics and pandemics?
Nigeria’s initial response to the COVID crisis was lackluster and uninspiring; but her efforts when compared to those of bigger and better developed Western countries were not that poor.
What was lacking was experts who were proactive and could prioritize; people who understood how to manage complex emergencies. There were evident critical gaps in response capacity. We will address such gaps by putting in place a national resilience strategy.
Do you think that government needs to be slimmed down?
Certainly. We have a bloated federal bureaucracy; hence we are spending more on recurrent expenses. And we are borrowing frivolously. I am not against loans per se; but we must stop borrowing for consumption. All loans must be invested in regenerative projects.
We must operate within available resources and strive for a balanced national budget as cost saving measures. Ending the leakages including the subsidy regime and improving our tax regime should do the magic.
In a Presidential system Presidents often find that they are hamstrung by the legislature especially when that body is dominated by members of opposition parties. How will you handle the National Assembly in this regard?
Presidential power as we know is the power of persuasion. Members of the National Assembly have vested interest in making their constituencies work. Their respective constituencies invariably form the presidential or national constituency. Policies that present win-win scenarios for national and federal constituencies will definitely attract bi-partisan support.
Do you have any plans to address the issue of the humongous salaries and allowances earned by National Assembly?
Simply, we have to cut costs. There are no two ways about it.
The structure and size of the civil service remains a major constraint for development in the country how do you plan to deal with the issue?
Lack of political will and lack of synergy between the Executive and Legislative arms has resulted in a costly inertia in tackling our oversized government. The result is persisting turf fights and competition among several overlapping agencies, and the resultant wastages. Cost-cutting measures must start with rationalization and harmonization. Pruning the size of government will be imperative.
The Oronsaye committee report of April 2012, recommended the abolition and merger of 102 government agencies and parastatals, while some were listed to be self-funding. What was called for was extreme but practical rationalization measures.
Will you be implementing the Oronsaye report?
That is an affirmative. That is the only way to make governance efficient, cost-effective and productive.
Photo Caption: Obi (second right), accomplished novelist, Chimamada Adichie (far left) and other discussants at the forum