IN­TER­VIEW

With the busi­ness lobby be­hind him and a com­mit­ment to re­struc­ture the fed­eral sys­tem, Atiku Abubakar has turned the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion into a bat­tle of sub­stance and style

The Africa Report - - CONTENTS - Atiku Abubakar Pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, Peo­ple’s Demo­cratic Party, Nige­ria

Atiku Abubakar, pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, Peo­ple’s Demo­cratic Party, Nige­ria

Two can­di­dates fur­ther apart would be hard to find. Op­po­si­tion pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Atiku Abubakar isa multi mil­lion­aire barn­storm­ing politi­cian who, hav­ing changed his party al­le­giance four times, is run­ning on the ticket of the main op­po­si­tion Peo­ple’s Demo­cratic Party. His ri­val, for­mer mil­i­tary ruler and sit­ting pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari, is re­served, with an ob­vi­ous dis­taste for the ma­noeu­vres of par­ti­san pol­i­tics. Buhari’s main con­cerns are push­ing out state-backed in­vest­ment pro­jects and tak­ing down grand cor­rup­tion. At the cen­tre of Atiku’s cam­paign is his prom­ise that he will make Nige­ria work again – both its sys­tem of gov­ern­ment and its peo­ple. His rem­edy is dereg­u­la­tion and pri­vati­sa­tion: get­ting the gov­ern­ment out of the way of full-throated cap­i­tal­ism and at­tract­ing bil­lions of dol­lars of in­vest­ment from in­ter­na­tional con­glom­er­ates. In­for­ma­tion min­is­ter Lai Mo­hammed con­cedes that Atiku is the strong­est can­di­date the op­po­si­tion could put up against Buhari. “But their best won’t be good enough,” he adds. For Buhari and Mo­hammed, Atiku is the epit­ome of the big-money pol­i­tics that has haunted Nige­ria since its re­turn to civil rule back in 1999. Based in a 10-storey build­ing in Abuja with a team of top Nige­rian and in­ter­na­tional strate­gists and poll­sters, Atiku has been pre­par­ing for the past 18 months. A week af­ter se­cur­ing the nom­i­na­tion in early Oc­to­ber, he picked as his run­ning mate Pe­ter Obi, a for­mer gov­er­nor of the south-east state of Anam­bra with a rep­u­ta­tion as hon­est and ef­fi­cient. Atiku’s next move was to or­ches­trate a hi gh-prof i l e re c on­cil i at i on be­tween him­self and for­mer pres­i­dent Oluse­gun Obasanjo, a decade af­ter their very pub­lic fall­ing out. Al­though this elec­tion will be about jobs and money, the ri­val cam­paigns will be mo­bil­is­ing big re­gional vot­ing blocs. Buhari will start ahead in the north­west and north-east ; Atiku has the south-south and south-east be­hind him. But in the volatile north-cen­tral re­gion and the south-west, home to the com­mer­cial cap­i­tal of La­gos, there’s ev­ery­thing to play for.

TAR : How do you see Africa far­ing amid an in­ter­na­tional trade war? ATIKU ABUBAKAR: It is cer­tainly not a good mo­ment for Africa. The West colonised Africa, set up all the in­sti­tu­tions in Africa, and even­tu­ally granted in­de­pen­dence to Africa. Now it has been with­draw­ing from Africa over the years. First, they started with estab­lish­ment of the Euro­pean Union (EU). The mo­ment the EU was es­tab­lished, the Bri­tish started with­draw­ing from Africa, the French started with­draw­ing. So they left a vac­uum. Africa has never been a US des­ti­na­tion. So Africa was left on its own, whether for good or bad I don’t know. In one sense it is bet­ter for Africa to be in­de­pen­dent. Of course, for the pur­poses of in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion, trade and in­vest­ment Africa has to look else­where.

Are you happy that China is fill­ing that vac­uum? Loans from China have [fewer] con­di­tion­al­i­ties [than] loans from the West. When you have less con­di­tion ali ty, there is the ten­dency that the money you bor­row is likely to be mis­ap­plied, mis­used, mis­ap­pro­pri­ated. And when the money bor­rowed is not in­vested in a sec­tor that can make profit, then you are likely to de­fault. With the West, they lend you money, and it has to be based on an in­vest­ment sched­ule and there must be re­turns. In the case of China, they are just giv­ing you money – “Okay go and build an air­port ,” or “Go and build a rail­way sta­tion.” Where are the fea­si­bil­ity stud­ies? What is the re­turn on in­vest­ment? How long will it take you to re­pay the money?

You have called Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari’s eco­nomic pol­icy ar­chaic. On what grounds? It’s not mar­ket friendly and be­cause of that we have not been get­ting much for­eign in­vest­ment. If any­thing, in fact, we have wit­nessed a flip of for­eign in­vest­ment out of Nige­ria. Many for­eign

“Many for­eign com­pa­nies have closed shop be­cause of the wrong eco­nomic poli­cies”

com­pa­nies have closed shop in this coun­try sim­ply be­cause the wrong eco­nomic poli­cies have been im­ple­mented. You say you would let the naira ex­change rate be set by the mar­ket. How would you deal with the re­sult­ing in­fla­tion? I would pre­fer to float the naira be­cause I be­lieve that will bring about a more sta­ble ex­change rate. There­fore, for­eign in­vestors are more likely to re­turn to Nige­ria and in­vest as much as pos­si­ble. We have to create more in­cen­tives for for­eign in­vest­ment and re­lax con­di­tion­al­i­ties, re­move reg­u­la­tions as much as pos­si­ble.

In an im­port-de­pen­dent econ­omy, surely that will drive up in­fla­tion? But what you for­get, it has two side ef­fects. There could be de­val­u­a­tion and there could be a lot of in­flow of for­eign cur­rency into the coun­try. The de­val­u­a­tion that is likely to re­sult can be bal­anced with the rel­a­tively huge [sums of ] for­eign cur­rency that will be com­ing into the coun­try. We had that sit­u­a­tion prior to the de­par­ture of [for­mer pres­i­dent] Good­luck Jonathan. At that time, we had a pile of for­eign in­vest­ment in the coun­try, and there was sta­bil­ity of the naira. So peo­ple did not have to go to the cen­tral bank to look for for­eign ex­change be­cause there was for­eign ex­change in the mar­ket and in the banks. So it could turn out to be a win-win sit­u­a­tion.

You are call­ing for re­struc­tur­ing of the fed­er­a­tion, which means the oil-pro­duc­ing states will get a big­ger share of the rev­enue. How much? That will de­pend on ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween them and other parts of Nige­ria. But I know they can get more be­cause in the First Repub­lic the re­gions had 50/50. I don’t mind giv­ing even 100% […], but I would tax those states to main­tain the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.

You are in favour of giv­ing all the oil-pro­duc­ing states in this coun­try to­tal con­trol over their re­sources? For now, it’s not ad­vis­able at this stage of our de­vel­op­ment. Even dur­ing the First Repub­lic there was this deriva­tion shar­ing

be­tween rev­enues and re­sources, or be­tween the re­gions and the fed­eral gov­ern­ment. So I think we could have a mid­dle course. It would be un­fair to ask me for specifics; that will de­pend on ne­go­ti­a­tions.

There is an ed­u­ca­tion cri­sis in Nige­ria, with grow­ing num­bers of chil­dren out­side school. How would you fix it? There is no will on the part of the Nige­rian gov­ern­ment, at fed­eral and state level, to see that the stan­dard of ed­u­ca­tion is im­prov­ing. We in­tro­duced free pri­mary in 2004. We omit­ted to pro­vide penal­ties for state gov­ern­ments that did not meet [those de­mands]. If I had the op­por­tu­nity again, I would in­tro­duce a penalty clause, to make it not only com­pul­sory, but if you don’t meet the tar­get then you are pe­nalised.

The num­bers of chil­dren out­side school are par­tic­u­larly high in the north. Would you im­pose spe­cial mea­sures? You make ed­u­ca­tion com­pul­sory – if you don’t send your child to school you are pun­ished for that – and you in­crease your ed­u­ca­tional bud­get to train more teach­ers, build more class­rooms. I tried to do it as a vice-pres­i­dent be­cause I re­alised how back­ward the north was. You know that we have an ed­u­ca­tional tax? If you im­port goods in this coun­try we charge you ed­u­ca­tional tax . We col­lect bil­lions at the fed­eral gov­ern­ment and dis­trib­ute to these states to en­hance ed­u­ca­tion, but they mis­use and mis­ap­pro­pri­ate all this money. So if you tell [these states] I will go and di­rectly build the schools, they will sit up and do some­thing about it.

On se­cu­rity, you would give state gov­ern­ments the power to run their own po­lice forces? What would hap­pen if some state gov­er­nors were to abuse those pow­ers? I want to de­volve polic­ing as well to the states. They’ll be free to run their own po­lice forces. If they can­not, they can come to­gether, two or three states to do it, de­pend­ing on how they want [to do it]. We have the same thing. The fed­eral gov­ern­ment is mis­us­ing the po­lice, is mis­us­ing the mil­i­tary. So if you are talk­ing of abuse, ev­ery level of gov­ern­ment abuses.

“Politi­cians used those boys in Boko Haram to win elec­tions and then aban­doned them”

How would you tackle the clashes be­tween herders and farm­ers, as well as ban­ditry and cat­tle-rustling? In each prov­ince in the north, we used to have a graz­ing re­serve. Dur­ing the sea­son, the cat­tle are in the re­serves. When it is off­sea­son, when farm­ers would have cul­ti­vated all their crops, then the cat­tle move out to the ar­eas where the farm­ers have cul­ti­vated, al­low­ing the grass in the graz­ing re­serves to grow. These graz­ing re­serves have been aban­doned over the years. One way is to make sure that we give lo­cal lead­ers the power to re­solve dis­putes be­tween farm­ers and graz­ers.

What role could eco­nom­ics play in re­solv­ing the cri­sis? I have de­cided to set up a fac­tory to pro­duce live­stock feeds in each of the zones in the north­ern states. I have set up one in Yola, one will be com­pleted here in Abuja this De­cem­ber and an­other one will be done in the north-west. There, you have all types of an­i­mal feeds. You can leave your cat­tle in one spot and buy enough live­stock feed and feed your cat­tle. You get bet­ter meat and more milk. If this busi­ness model gets you more in­come, wouldn’t you go for it? There are cat­tle rustlers all over. Even in my own herd. I have more than 1,000 heads of cat­tle, and cat­tle rustlers came and took over 200 of them and drove away into Cameroon.

Al­though the Boko Haram mili­tias no longer con­trol swathes of ter­ri­tory, they still launch ter­ror at­tacks. How would you counter them? I hap­pen to know how Boko Haram came into be­ing. They were off­shoots of po­lit­i­cal thug­gery. Politi­cians used those boys in Boko Haram to win elec­tions and then aban­doned them and then there were no jobs for them. It was the same thing with the Niger Delta. In 1998, I saw it my­self and I warned peo­ple. It’s go­ing to be a mul­ti­fac­eted ap­proach. It will in­volve ne­go­ti­a­tions. It will in­volve mil­i­tary ac­tion.

Re­form of the oil and gas in­dus­try has stalled. You have been ad­vo­cat­ing the whole­sale pri­vati­sa­tion of the state oil com­pany. Wouldn’t that make things even worse? With­out a sta­ble reg­u­la­tor y frame­work, the oil and gas com­pa­nies will find it dif­fi­cult to in­vest more in Nige­ria. At the time, we pushed for the pas­sage of the new law. We ex­pected that Nige­ria would be able to ex­port up to about 4m bar­rels per day, but here we are still at less than 2m per day.

You’re now say­ing you would sell the en­tire state oil com­pany? Or that the gov­ern­ment should keep about 10%? Yes, I would want to go ahead, there is no doubt about that. [The gov­ern­ment should have] a very mi­nor share­hold­ing. Nige­ria is in dire need of funds to de­velop its in­fra­struc­ture and other sec­tors of the econ­omy.

Your own com­pany, In­tels, which pro­vides lo­gis­tics to the en­ergy in­dus­try, is un­der pres­sure. Is it – or are you – be­ing tar­geted po­lit­i­cally? In­tel sh as al­ways suf­fered be­cause I have been in­volved in the fight for democ­racy since the1980s, when the mil­i­tary was in power. [Gov­ern­ments] will pounce on In­tels – refuse me one li­cence or the other, close me down. Even the gov­ern­ment that I served as a demo­crat­i­cally elected vice-pres­i­dent, the pres­i­dent closed In­tels for six months when he had a dis­agree­ment with me. […] He never found a fault

with it and even­tu­ally opened it again. The last three years have been the worst in the his­tory of In­tels be­cause our turnover dropped by 70%. Oil com­pa­nies and gas com­pa­nies are no longer in­vest­ing in that sec­tor be­cause of the ab­sence of laws that can guar­an­tee their in­vest­ment.

Aliko Dan­gote was able to build his ce­ment pro­duc­tion em­pire af­ter your gov­ern­ment banned im­ports. Would you im­pose more such bans? I am one of the peo­ple who pro­moted Aliko Dan­gote, but I’m never for monopoly. Im­port bans to some ex­tent, but cer­tainly not for a monopoly. As long as [a ban] is go­ing to de­velop in­dus­tries, which means cre­at­ing jobs, as long as it is go­ing to de­velop our in­fra­struc­ture. I’m pre­pared to pri­va­tise the de­vel­op­ment of in­fra­struc­ture in the coun­try. That will create mil­lions and mil­lions of jobs.

You crit­i­cise the gov­ern­ment’s anti-cor­rup­tion strat­egy. What would you do dif­fer­ently? You can’t de­ploy only puni­tive mea­sures to fight cor­rup­tion. One way of try­ing to re­duce cor­rup­tion to the barest min­i­mum is also to in­tro­duce e-gov­er­nance. If you are ap­ply­ing for a per­mit, if you are ap­ply­ing for a pass­port, why not ap­ply on­line? Why can’t we also em­ploy pre­ven­tive mea­sures to stop cor­rup­tion?

What about the grand cor­rup­tion? Bil­lions of dol­lars of oil money have been taken from this coun­try. If we have ev­i­dence against you we ar­rest you and pros­e­cute you, and take away the money.

Are you con­cerned about the fate of Nnamdi Kanu, the pro-bi­afra ac­tivist? I don’t want to be in­di­vid­u­al­is­tic on this is­sue. I re­ject any il­le­gal de­ten­tion, any de­ten­tion that is not based on law and or­der.

What about for­mer na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser Sambo Da­suki? Da­suki is be­ing de­tained il­le­gally. It is only a court that will say whether he is guilty or not.

Would you favour a ref­er­en­dum for the peo­ple of the south-east, of­fer­ing them the chance to leave the fed­er­a­tion? When we get there. We are go­ing to have a con­fer­ence to dis­cuss re­con­struc­tion. Then we will see. I don’t think there is any part of this coun­try that wants to leave this coun­try. All what they want is fair­ness, eq­uity and jus­tice.

“I don’t think there is any part of this coun­try that wants to leave this coun­try”

Are there any sit­u­a­tions where where rule of law could be waved aside for na­tional se­cu­rity? No. The rule of law it­self is a guar­an­tor of na­tional se­cu­rity. In­ter­view by Pa­trick Smith and Eromo Eg­be­jule in Abuja

Obasanjo’s and Atiku’s mak­ing up af­ter their long-run­ning feud was a very pub­lic af­fair

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