BusinessDay

INTERVIEW: Atedo Peterside says Nigerian leaders have been lying to us

…and they have lacked courage but this time the youths are ready to say never again

Founder of ANAP foundation Atedo Peterside says Nigeria’s leaders have been telling lies to their people and that the old order has failed.

He also says Nigeria needs a leader who will stand for the truth and bring truth to the office of president where he said truth and honesty have been lacking for years.

In a wide-ranging interview on Channels Television, Peterside who founded Stanbic IBTC bank Plc says Nigerians should expect that the first year of the next administration will be a time of blood, sweat and pain because of the mess that the current government has kicked down the road and will be handed over to the incoming president.

Here is the full text of the interview in which the social critic also canvassed the removal of petrol subsidy which he said Nigeria can ill afford.

Q: How tedious is the burden of the office of President in 2023

A: I think we want to bring in somebody who will stand for the truth and bring truth to that office. It has been lacking for a long time. The truth is that the bulk of the problems confronting Nigeria is obvious. Everybody knows the problems. We all know about banditry, terrorism, crude oil theft, the unaffordable size of the federal government, the cost of governance generally, petrol subsidy which we cannot afford, and low business caused by a variety of things including investors withdrawing from Nigeria. Those are things that somebody who studies O/L can understand. So, it is not something for which you need phenomenal knowledge or intelligence to understand the problems of Nigeria. Interestingly also, the bulk of the solutions to our problems are pretty obvious and straightforward. The first thing that is called for is sincerity. The second thing is courage, and both have been lacking in our leaders for a long time. So, I do not take the view that you need a Nobel prize winner to understand and to solve our problems or things like a petrol subsidy that we cannot afford.

Q: The first year of a serious presidency commencing May 2023 will be blood, sweat, tears and no happiness?

A: This government has kicked the can down the road. There were many obvious things this government was supposed to do. They dragged their feet for a very long time and now they are putting off many of them until June next year which is the same as saying they do not want to fix these problems. So, therefore, whoever is coming in May next year, 2023 must begin by clearing the mess that should have been tackled last year or the year before. So, therefore, I will be very worried if anyone does not understand that he must do all the dirty work which this very government has refused to do.

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Q: What is this dirty work

A: What do I mean? Let me give you an example. Go and check the estimate from this same government. The bill for petrol subsidy for next year will exceed the total revenue of the federal government. So, imagine that you are running your house and the bill for one item like petrol will exceed all the income of the household. Does that make any sense? What further evidence do you need that you cannot afford something? Let me explain for it was not always like this. What we had in the past was a petrol subsidy bill that potentially was rising and rising each year and we had revenue that was growing slowly. But we were always going to get to the point sooner or later with high oil prices where petrol subsidy cost will grow so large it will overtake revenues so much and what is the plan to solve the problem. Having finished the whole of revenues plus more on petrol subsidy, now this government goes to borrow and borrow.

Q: Impact of borrowing without brakes

A: What is the meaning of borrowing? It is increasing the money supply by printing more money and the more money you print the more you increase the money in supply and the more you put pressure on the exchange rate. I think there is an almost perfect correlation. For instance, if the money in supply right now is say N2trn, and you print more through debt and double that, all other things being equal, you should expect the exchange rate to double. So, the point is that we have a monetary and exchange rate crisis at the root of it, or the cause of which is the fiscal indiscipline of the government. So, whoever comes in May next year, the first thing you must do is to go to the root of the fiscal indiscipline to cut off the things we cannot afford. So, he is going, to begin with, bad news for the people. And this is the first time I have seen elections where at least one of the candidates has mentioned on live television saying we are going to cut off the things we cannot afford especially the biggest ones. In the past candidates were shying away from saying such things.

But I think it is becoming clear now that Nigerians understand those who have been lying to them in the past We are in the age of social media and you can go back and play back what people told you before on all these contentious issues and you can see that the people in charge lied to us eight years ago, they lied four years ago so they are trapped in their lies. The second reason they are trapped is that the leaders are in bed with those benefitting from the distortion. Look the petrol subsidy is a lucrative business and whoever is bringing in the petrol through NNPC and all that stuff is making a fortune and it has always been the case.

Q: How to manage the expectation of Nigerians given the first year will be a lot of blood, sweat and pains

A: You see, there are governments all over the world, even in Nigeria in the past. When you the leader know that what you must do is to bring bad news to the people. This is not the first time that the government has had to reduce things. This will not be the first time that the government has tried to reduce the cost of governance, trying to cut off things that we cannot afford. The problem is that in the past people thought they could get away with it. But I think they have realized that the only people we are fooling are ourselves. So, we are now at the point where I even think especially now that we have an electorate that is full of young people and from what they have been writing, what they have been saying, they understand the issues and they know that some people have taken this country for a ride. So, I don’t think the way forward is for people to come out again to come and tell obvious lies to the people of Nigeria. All of us will scream and say never again, we have been on that road before. In the past, we heard people say the foreign exchange rate will become one Naira to a dollar. We have heard people say all manner of things. We have heard people say the Naira rate to the dollar was too high. The mood of the people today is you cannot fool us twice or thrice. What has changed today is that the people are knowledgeable and very politically active and they cannot even wait for the elections. Sometimes you can bread a monster beyond your control. It is a good thing for this country that many young people aged between 18 and 35 are becoming very interested in the political destiny of this country and they will set the agenda for February.

Q: Some of these young people believe that once we elect the right president in 2023 all our problems will disappear. You know this is not true

A: You see, take insecurity, we have many countries in the world that have faced insecurity and they have been truthful, honest, and sincere and have been getting help from other countries because people are out there willing to help you fight insecurity. The truth in the matter is that the body language of the Nigerian government has not been encouraging. They are hiding under all manner of sentiments and excuses about sovereignty. Excuse me what is sovereignty involved in getting assistance or getting a foreign government to help you to dislodge bandits, overwhelm terrorists and fight a high-tech war? Why does a government want to use an AK47 to fight an AK47? The logic globally is that you should have superior firepower and in the 21st century, that superior firepower should involve high-tech solutions. You want to dazzle your enemy by applying weapon systems that are beyond him to respond to. What we are doing is to do the same every day. You arrest people, put them in prison, release them and they go back to join those fighting against the people. The day we have a government who is serious, who will tackle these things and make it very clear that there is zero tolerance. It does not matter who is involved. To get me clear, I am not saying that our armed forces are not trying, I am not saying that we do not have people risking their lives in the northeast in the tranches doing their best. I am saying these people have been let down by their leaders.

Q: You do not look like you have not decided who to vote for. For those who have not made up their mind and are still thinking. Do you suppose there could be a surprise and unexpected emerging the next President of Nigeria next year?

A: As you know our foundation has always been involved in political polling since 2011. Let me tell you the number one surprise that we already know. In 2011, PDP was the ruling party. Before the election in 2011, from our opinion polls, PDP, and President Goodluck Jonathan had a 54% approval rating from Nigerians. Two months ago, a similar opinion poll carried out showed that 40% of Nigerians do not approve of APC or PDP. That’s 40% of Nigerians who do not want to hear about APC or PDP. They believe they have both failed. So, suddenly, we find that those who do not want APC or PDP are in the majority. That is just in terms of approval rating. Some things have changed and that is the reality and if things have not changed, we will be in the old environment where the ruling party will always be the favourite. And why won’t things change? Go a look at the data that says we have 100m Nigerians in poverty, look at unemployed youths in millions. The rise in unemployment is frightening. Have you thought of how people are able to eat with inflation galloping at 19%? You get to a point where things are so bad and the only thing left on the horizon, the only things people are looking forward to, if not to pull the house down but to change the rules and go for a different kinds of solutions and that is why it appears so many young people are excited about the elections holding next year.

Q: Youths are merely noisy on Twitter some say. Is this true in your view

A: Let me make some things clear. People have been saying all kinds of things that the only difference is that the young people are making noise on Twitter. Look at the results of the Osun election. The turnout of that election was high by recent standards. Why was the turnout high in the Osun election? It was because of high-interest levels that the youths participated actively and the ruling party felt a slap in the face.

Q: Who in your view is the kind of leader, the ideal leader for Nigeria at a time like this

A: To be a Nigerian president today and given where we are coming from, the president must have a very high energy level. You see, sometimes you might think that they killed some people in Maiduguri or in Katsina and so what do we do about this now? Let me tell you something, in serious countries, as soon as there is a major incident, the president of the country arrives on the scene, he arrives to comfort people, he is visiting hospitals. So, with that kind of thing, you want a president who has the capacity and understands the problems. You also want a president who does not mind becoming unpopular for some time. What is the worst thing that can happen to an incoming president who goes in there and tackles all these problems and becomes unpopular? Is it not better to go and get the problems solved, tackle all those people who are holding back Nigeria and maybe step on people’s toes and if need be, fail to get re-election four years later? That person will be a hero. That is the kind of person we are looking for in 2023. We do not want people who go in there doing nothing, wasting time and planning for re-election thereafter. We want a president who will hit the ground running, and tackle the problems at the risk of being unpopular, at the risk of being voted out. That is the kind of president we are looking for in 2023.

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