• Saturday, June 22, 2024
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How I will wipe off Nigeria’s sad situation within 4 years – Ohuabunwa

Ohuabunwa heads Abia PDP Campaign Advisory Council

Sam Ohuabunwa, immediate past president of the Nigerian Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria; a former chairman of the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG) and convener of The New Nigeria Group, has since declared his intention to seek his party’s nomination to contest the presidency in 2023. In this interview with the BusinessDay team consisting ZEBULON AGOMUO, OBINNA EMELIKE, AMAKA ANAGOR-EWUZIE AND INIOBONG IWOK, the pharmacist-turned politician spoke on the state of the nation, his divine call into the race, the Nigeria of his dream, the motivation for his aspiration, among others. Excerpts:

Twenty-two years after returning to democratic rule, many Nigerians are not sure the country has made the desired progress. They have the idea of what an ideal society should be and what a reasonable government should be doing for the good of the people. They have no idea of the people that can lead them to that ideal state. What is an ideal situation for you and how can we get there?

I am a pharmacist by training; I am a health care professional and one of the things that is part of our training is that for every symptom you find, there is an underlying disease that is causing it and very often we dig in to know what the problem is because if you say you have headache and we just give you drug; that is treating the symptom without treating the disease.

First and foremost; in every country the objective of setting up a government is for the welfare, the wellbeing and the security of the people of that jurisdiction. A critical objective of any government is to move people from a state of inferior quality of life to a state of higher and better quality of life.

That for me is the essence of government; first to meet those needs; welfare, wellbeing and security of life of people. Secondly, to move people from a state of lower quality of life to a state of higher quality of life, the quality of life is measured in different ways: human development index, life expectancy, purchasing power, per-capita income and so many other ways of measuring.

And therefore, each time there is an argument, is Nigeria doing well, is our president doing well? I said let’s put them down on these criteria; it is not a matter of opinion, it is a matter of fact.

So, what we have seen in the last twenty-two years since 1999 and in the last Sixty-one years of our independence is that we have not made a meaningful accomplishment of this set of criteria.

A situation where everybody is looking for a better yesterday, we cannot be said to be doing well. We have nostalgia and I am speaking to people what I enjoyed as a ten-year old boy.

I could enter a train from Port Harcourt and all alone with no father, no guard take the train to Makurdi, my uncle would be waiting for me at the train station he used to work at the railway and I would stay there for a few weeks.

I moved on to Kafanchan, Kaduna and I turned around sometime I move on to other part of the North and come back home after two, three weeks. There was no phone to say I had reached Kaduna or Kafanchan; nothing. They just assumed I arrived safely and I returned.

Today, can anybody put his ten-year old son in a train even to go to Ibadan alone? How do we now say we are doing well? Governance has done well? Our leadership has done well? I went to secondary school; part of my secondary school was on county (council) scholarship. They gave me a scholarship.

County was an equivalent of local government today. I went to school on a scholarship; how many local governments are giving scholarship today? I got bursary before I entered university.

While in the university I had two scholarships. So, I went to school with three scholarships. I graduated in June, 1976, by July 1976, I was working at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital Enugu as an intern pharmacist.

September I was given a car loan of N3, 600 to buy a car. I went to Joe Allen in Port Harcourt and bought a brand new Passat car; I bought it N3, 200 and I had N400 change which I used to wash the car. I washed the car in Port Harcourt where my parents lived; I came to Enugu and washed it again among my friends.

I drove the car to my internship and drove it to Enugu, to Sokoto where I did my NYSC. Completed my NYSC and drove the car the same month of July to come to Lagos, No 1 Henry Carr Street Ikeja and started work as pharmaceutical sales representative with Pfizer. I actually had four jobs.

I was praying to God to tell me which one to attend and not to help me get work. Three months after I started, Pfizer gave me a brand new Peugeot car as my official car. Three years post graduate I had three cars in my garage as sales representative.

I got married in 1980. I single-handedly sponsored everything to my taste, not because I did not have anybody who could help me but I did not need their help. As a young pharmacist working for a multinational, the money I earned was enough to take care of my wedding ceremonies. But that is not the case today.

There is evidence that our country is mismanaged, poorly led, and I have prayed, cajoled and I have advocated, I have even written, check my write ups in BusinessDay.

What are we talking about? How can we make Nigeria globally competitive? How can we make it better for our children and unborn children? That is why I have indicated my aspiration.

Agitations for restructuring are rife across Nigeria as a result of marginalisation. How critical is the issue of restructuring and what should be restructured?

The principle of restructuring is very critical and I think all those who love Nigeria’s stability and progress should accept that. First is that we are a federation and there are basic dictionary definitions of federation.

Federation is where a group of constituent states or what you may call federating units come together to form a union and then decide to create a central government and cede some powers to the central government to organise certain common services on behalf of the constituency, state or federating units or collaborating states.

The collaborating states maintain their primary autonomy and then hand over some powers to the Federal Government. And donation of power comes from the federating units to the central.

Today, we have a situation where it is the central that is donating power to the constituents; is that right? If we want to call it another name let’s look for another name; but if Nigeria is a federation; let’s organise like a federation and if anybody is not happy about that let the person be walking on his head rather than walking on his feet to satisfy his selfish tendency and see how long he can walk on his feet. Nigeria is like an inverted pyramid.

What we are saying is that the way Nigeria is structured, it is not serving us; it is not serving the South, it is not serving the North, and I don’t know why anybody should be really happy about it. I have asked the questions during my travels, maybe some people have some fears, but those fears are not grounded.

Because should we even say let’s return to the pre-military regional structure? Who would lose? No one, rather people would gain, except the selfishness of our political leaders who are afraid they would not be governors anymore or senators anymore.

They are the ones putting obstacles on the road. Can you imagine if we cut the country into four regions; how much would be saved from this proliferation of offices; each person would have twenty cars and he is going to the stadium; he is visiting his in-laws. We waste money and resources of the country, just so that I can be senator, I can be in the House of Representatives.

This people have ruined our country and they are sending the wrong perspective of the matter to the people who they are fooling. They are also confusing them with information. Northern Nigeria was competing favourably with all other regions and they were doing well.

The train line was built essentially to evacuate goods from the North to the sea port. The North was producing groundnut, cotton, Tin Ore and several other minerals and they were being shipped from Apapa across the country and beyond and we were earning money.

There was the Northern Nigeria Development Corporation; there was the Eastern Nigeria Development Corporation.

The East lived on palm kennel and palm oil and the West lived on Cocoa and Timber. The Midwest lived on its rubber and Timber. I told you I went to school on scholarship, the local government had money for scholarships and there was enough money for the government to take care of its responsibilities.

Do you know how much money we have earned since then, when we had oil? We did not have oil at the time, it was not a major issue and rather than getting better we are getting worse and somebody would look at us in the face and say don’t talk about restructuring.

If you run a system that is not working, what do you do about the system? You rejig it, you reinvent, you restructure it, whatever name you want to call it, is just for us to rearrange the system to make it work.

So, if people are not happy with restructuring let them just agree for us to reengineer Nigeria. Let’s make Nigeria work. Set Nigeria free from this self-imposed anarchy; whereas we are a country so blessed by God, but by our arrangement we have become the poverty capital in the world.

A country of jobless people; because everybody is waiting to get oil money and share it and steal it as much as you can.

I was in the 2004 constitutional conference called by Obasanjo; we came out with issues that would correct this arrangement. But some people in the National Assembly threw away those suggestions. Jonathan tried in 2014, if you check the recommendations they are all in the same direction.

How do you rejig, restructure the country so that it would become more stable and balanced? That is what we are talking about.

You are not new to the game of politics, but the contest for the presidency is a different ball game. From 2015 to now what has changed?

In 2014 we could see a country having high digit economic growth, it moved up to 7percent and we were even looking at the possibility of having double digit and of course there was a slice change in 2014 because of the reduction in cost of oil and we know it is a circle that would come up.

We saw the economy growing and we became the biggest economy in Africa. And we saw some bit of diversification, unlike when oil used to dominate.

We saw efforts to increase school enrolment. That was the indices; there was opportunity to increase school enrolment and school expansion for including people who were called itinerant cattle herdsmen they built schools to let them learn.

We saw efforts to create a nation where diversity was the order, to show that we are a nation of different ethnic people. So, you saw a nation where offices were constituted, the way appointments were made. You look at the coloration, the rainbow, the diversity in Nigeria.

And there was a high sense of freedom of speech and association which seems to have vanished. We saw some high level of security, even though there was some bombing but it was not what we are seeing now that we can’t use road and railway anymore.

So, the situation has worsened, the education system has declined, freedom of association is no more there, our health system has worsened due to unpreparedness to deal with Covid-19 and its aftermath. Our GDP growth suffers two receptions back to back and our growth now is retarded.

So, I can’t see anything that is heading north, everything is heading south, including the much-talked about anti-corruption war.

We are in a crisis and the people running the country think you are against them. So, Nigeria’s quality of life has degraded our external relevance, prestige and image. We used to be known as a nation of corrupt people; it has gone beyond that now.

We are now a nation of ‘yahoo-yahoo’, ritualists, terrorists and bandits. Our nation has declined in governance that we are providing for our people and that is why there is a call for people like us to come out.

Those of us who believe that we have what it takes to change the narrative; we can no longer stand by the side complaining, criticizing, writing and advocating; we need to get the job done.

Since after the 1993 presidential election no one has been able to muster votes across religious and regional lines unlike what the late MKO Abiola did; campaign is now done on religious and ethnic sentiments. Does this pose any danger for Nigeria’s political development?

Yes, I think so, because we may end up confirming what some people have said about Nigeria. Ghadafi, America and the rest of the people made all kinds of predictions about Nigeria; our prayer is that it should not happen.

But if we continue in this way there is a critical issue which is how do we revive our economy? Who has the formula? Who understands how we can generate, attract investment both domestic and foreign so that we can use it to create business, create programmes and projects.

This business and programmes would create jobs; jobs create wealth and wealth drives away poverty. Whether you are North or South, this is the same thing everybody needs

. I have gone around the country and everybody is saying the same thing; they are poor, their children who went to school have no work; so there is no encouragement to send more children to school.

Their lives are not secure. A woman is in the farm somebody emerges from nowhere, cuts the woman’s stomach, brings out the baby and also cuts the fetus in present day Nigeria. It is 21st Century and we are not in a barbaric age and nothing happens to the person.

We don’t hear that the person was arrested and captured. So, in that kind of situation, what do you expect us to do? Resignation, helplessness or hopelessness, throw up our hands?

No, we have refused; it is still a redeemable situation, but what is required is leadership that is enlightened, leadership that is visionary, leadership that has integrity, leadership that is courageous.

This situation that we are in can be resolved in four short years and nobody would remember that we once passed through the situation. Because the enabling environment and those that could turn the country around are here; we are not going to look for it in another country.

If God gives us the grace to become president in 2023; one of the first things we are going to do; currently there is deficit income in Nigeria, revenue shortfall against expenditure; people ruling would think the best way is to go and borrow, you’re not cutting down anything, you are not prioritising; but it is just to borrow. I am not in that category.

I would know that I need to raise more revenue because that would solve everything. I am going to start what I would call reverse tourism.

I am going to take tourist attraction seriously. Something simple as getting our troupes, our performers, Nigerian dancers, actors, play, drama, culture, and arrange them in troupes, send one group to U.S; one group to Asia, etc, and for three months every weekend they are in Yankee stadium, they are in Texas, Atlanta.

They would go to the biggest stadium and present Nigeria dances, films and Americans and people of the United Kingdom would pay 100 dollars, 100 pounds to come and watch them play.

I am going to do it in collaboration with the artists themselves; so that I would be sharing the revenue with them. Is not for them to go and earn money for Nigeria and be standing at the door; we would agree on a ratio. Nollywood actors, the Davidos of this world, are doing these shows on their own.

Do you imagine when Nigeria put hand and support them, the doors would open. While the world is admiring our tourism attraction, we are rebuilding our country.

This is just to show you a small way to get revenue. I have not started talking about mining and petroleum and getting all the petrochemicals and all the things we can use to get medicine inside that crude.

I have not talked about modular refineries in all the local governments in the Niger Delta and make them a joint venture between the Federal Government and the communities with everybody a shareholder.

Some people have floated a third force to dislodge the two major parties, but it seems it is not resonating with some Nigerians. Can we say that there is no way power can slip from the grips of the political elite?

We can’t say there is no way, only God can say so. For example power would slip from those owners in 2023; that is settled; how it would slip we don’t know. Would it slip in the context of the party itself?

That is why you have new faces like us who are not in the category of “owners of Nigeria,” but who are in the main party. Would God use us to take power from those playing god?

Only God knows. But quote me in 2023 the president of the country would not be one of the owners of the country.

I know God answers prayers, the poor has been praying; the innocent have been praying; the blood of the innocence we are shedding in Nigeria for many years is also crying.

You know the Bible said the blood of Abel was crying; can you imagine how many Abels that have been destroyed? God has not changed. So, I am convinced.

I have been resisting doing what I am doing now; I prefer to do all the corner-corner support for politics, for me to be strengthened in my spirit to come into this game, it is not ordinary. There is a motivation that is beyond me and that motivation can only come from God and it is an indication that there is something new about to happen.

So, I think and believe the power would be taken from the hand of the wicked people who have held Nigeria down and make Nigeria to become directionless because it does not look like they have any plan. They are struggling to have power and use the power for what?

I went to Adamawa to sell myself to the PDP members there and a party chieftain told me that I am the only aspirant coming here with a written plan, that other people are just throwing money at them. Do they think only money would solve this problem?

He did not say he would support me, but I am the only one bringing documentation of what I want to do. What I am saying is that things would happen in 2023 because God has risen not because of me, but has risen because of people who truly prayed for him.

Infrastructure is a big issue in the country; how do you plan to tackle it across the broad spectrum?

When I was a member of the Sure-P under the President Goodluck Jonathan administration, Dr. Kolade was the first chairman, we were the first convener for the East-West Road and rail. We saw the completion of the Kaduna-Abuja standard gauge.

That gauge was finished in March 2015 and we wanted President Jonathan to inaugurate it but he said after the elections. But after the election, somebody else inaugurated the work that he did. How did we fund the project?

The China Exim Bank provided 70 percent loan while Nigeria provided 30 percent of the funds, making it 100 percent and we were able to build that rail line.

First, China was always having their money ready and even the 30 percent of Nigeria’s counterpart funding, sometimes come late. I suggested to them, you know I was not there when the loan was negotiated and our job in Sure-P was to come and supervise.

To make sure that the job was done in accordance with specifications before the people can be paid. But if I was part of the negotiation, there was no reason why we should put in 30 percent and no reason why the other should be loan. Because the loan is on our balance sheet that we owe China Exim Bank. We are going to pay interest and the capital.

All I will do is China Exim Bank come and construct this rail line and we agree on how many years it will take for you to recoup your investment, which could be 20, 25 years, whatever it will take.

Two things will happen, first the rail will be built on time because they will not wait for Nigeria’s 30 percent or to bribe Nigerians to bring their 30 percent or get the job done.

Ours will be to supervise while they do the job and provide the service. And for 20 to 25 years, the service will work because they will recover their money, and at the end of 25 years, the rail infrastructure will belong to Nigerians without us paying back loan and interest.

There are thousands of such projects that are fundable. So, we’re going to do a number of things. There are some projects Nigerian government will fund from budget especially those projects that are not easily fundable that you can see how to recover investments.

So, if they are critical infrastructure, the government will fund them. There are ones that can be done by the private sector. The one that they need guarantee of public sector to be able to have the confidence, we will do public private partnerships.

So, we’re going to do public private partnerships. We’re going to do outright private sector. We’re going to do the one that the budget of the Federal Government can handle. So, in one go, those three opportunities will be running and Nigeria will turn into a construction hub.

So many projects will be going. You cannot build Nigeria infrastructure with budgeted money especially while we’re not getting much more money and still dependent on oil. So that’s what we’re going to do. And within a very short while, we shall close the infrastructure gap.

I am in a position to know thin Nigeria is it seaport, airport, land port, is it whatever that the private sector is not willing to do. Who is building the biggest refinery in Nigeria and biggest petrochemical industry in Nigeria? So, what’s the issue?

All we need to do is to do a lot more, give a lot more opportunities by making it a level playing ground. Many people will come to take advantage. My job will be to be negotiating with those companies to make sure that Nigeria’s get value.

I’m going to intervene if China Exim Bank, Hong Kong or British railway says well to recover this cost, I will charge Nigerian passengers N10 per kilometre, and I find that Nigerians can’t afford that. I will renegotiate, either give them a longer time if it was 10 years, we can give them 30 years to recover or people will pay N10 and government will pay the subsidy for the difference.

So, first and foremost, you have the infrastructure and it is oily, the economy because take road infrastructure take transportation. These are factors that fire the economy. The economic growth is measured by the velocity of goods and services. How fast goods and services are moving and how often do rotate on a particular circuit?

At each rotation, money drops into the till. And if they can do 10 rotations in one day, you have 10 Things dropping into your till. So, speed is important. So, infrastructure gap will be closed in a very short while.

First, there will be no corruption. Let me give you why I say there’s no corruption. When we were doing the Sure-P, one of the things we did was to stop anything that will bring corruption around us.

So, we didn’t deal with contractors and we didn’t award contract but we did a lot of work. So, one day, somebody started pressuring till he was able to reach me. He was one of the contractors and was talking about coming to show appreciation.

So, I said this appreciation you want to show, where did you get the money? He said it was built into the contract. He said they build it in for everybody, the executives, and legislators for oversight and everybody is provided for.

And also, they build about three years bank interest rate because they know that Nigeria will not pay on due date. So, they build all that. Can you imagine the real cost of project?

Read also: 2023 election: Nigeria’s digital infrastructure faces biggest test

Insecurity is a major issue and you also alluded to that. To what extent do you think insecurity will be an issue in 2023 general elections?

Up till the election period insecurity will be an issue, because it’s proven that we don’t have a handle on it and the more we get closer to elections, except of course, when Nigeria begins to distributes political money, it might take a few people out of the trenches and they may enter into the political stream.

That may reduce some because there are many things that drive people to crime. One of them is hunger, poverty and joblessness. They are major precursors of insecurity.

So, maybe political funding may take care of that but there are still issues till after the election. If the election is done, and we come to office, first, the change of government will automatically bring down the insecurity. The moment the government changes, insecurity will come down even when nothing is done.

Do you know why? Because people will be arrested and prosecuted, and when people are arrested and prosecuted, others will run.

Number two, we are going to devise a methodology to ensure that our country is secured because the primary responsibility of the government is provide security and in doing so, we are going to apply every learning.

We will borrow ideas from those who have passed through where we are passing through because they say there’s nothing new under the sun. Some countries passed through where we are. How did you resolve it? Come and help us resolve it.

Number three, we’re going to deploy technology at its optimum. Today, I can be here and travelled the North, which is an open savannah and there is not too many places people can hide that satellite cannot identify them.

There are very few places. So, we will deploy technology that will identify where these criminals are located. Fourthly, we’re going to deploy high level of intelligence.

Both physical intelligence and technology driven intelligence to identify where they are making the plans to deal with us, by the time they finished making the plan.

The next morning, we already know, we can hear them and can see them with technology just sitting in this my house in a console. I will be watching where and what they are speaking, call it Sambisa forest.

Call it Zamfara forest. Call it Imo forest. There is nowhere in Nigeria you can’t drop something that can pick noise for you or create visibility.

The technology exists even in civil society, not to talk of the military. Where we can’t even send soldiers because we don’t trust their morality and the level of motivation, we send armoured equipment that will deliver armour at the right targets.

Americans are using armoured droves, so why can’t we use armoured drones to take them out? And once you take out one or two, the others will run.

The whole bravado is that this will come and they are rewarded. In fact, sometimes, you come and negotiate with them, and give them money. Then, other group will wake up.

First, put the right pegs in the right holes. Motivate, change their morale and motivation so that they will know that they are working for a country.

Make sure that they are protected by insurance, anything that happens to them, their children, and their family will be taken care of. Keep them, train them and make them feel that they are working for a country that will appreciate them.

Many of Nigerian security people are de-motivated. They are not well taken care of. Not well looked after; welfare is zero. If they bring money, people in top echelon will grab it. For instance, one serving Army General was caught with property worth N3.7 billion; multiply that by the number of serving senior army officers to know what is going on.

A big issue is power shift; the region you come from is canvassing for power to shift to that region. The Northerners are also giving reasons power should come to them. How do you see power shift and how will it impact the 2023 election?

Power shift is something that is already foreclosed. Nigeria has operated on North-South even during the military era.

Obasanjo finished, he made sure that it went to Shagari; Shagari finished he wanted it to go to Ekwueme before the military came. It would have gone to Ekwueme or somebody else.

Even when the military came, it could have gone to the South East or South South, but because of compensation for Abiola, it went to the South West after which it went to the north, after which it came back to the South but in 2023, it is going back to the South.

The Southern brothers will sit down among themselves and say the South West has had opportunity, south-south has had opportunity and it is the South East that is left. That’s what I think. Initially, that is inclusiveness. We want to preach and demonstrate unity, not unity by mouth to keep Nigeria united.

So, I think that if Nigeria wants to be a united country, if Nigeria wants to reduce agitation for separation, for hardship, one of sorts of unhappiness that is caused by a feeling of injustice, the power should come to the South in 2023 and perhaps, to the South-East.

However, I am in this race, not because it is South-East, or south. I’m an individual because I think the time has come for me to become president of Nigeria. I feel sufficiently motivated. I also feel sufficiently prepared. And I think that I’m answered to prayers.

I’m competing as a bonafide, qualified Nigerian, but of course, if it is zoned to the South East, many things would be achieved. First, it creates that inclusiveness; it makes Nigeria have a human face.

We are not in a country where it is only the mighty that will have it, or a country where only the mighty has it. We need to believe in justice, equity and fair play. And it can suit many people.