I am no longer running for office in Nigeria — Kingsley Moghalu


Kingsley Moghalu is a lawyer, political economist, and former deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria. In an exclusive interview on Arise TV, he talked about why he gave up on wanting to be president of Nigeria, what he does as president of the Institute for Governance and Economic Transformation, and what he has learned from the Nigerian political scene.

Professor, many people in politics who have achieved some prominence tend to feel rather low after their withdrawal from politics, but in your case, you are saying that you are happy and have found peace in withdrawing from partisan politics. Tell us more.

All my life I have been a professional and a global leader in domains across several disciplines—international diplomacy, economic policy, central banking, law, democracy, politics, and so on.

In 2018, I joined Nigerian politics and became the presidential candidate of one of the political parties, one of the smaller political parties, but my joining politics was out of the conviction that it is an important path through which we can change our country’s destiny since we claim to be a democracy.

I’ve been in it for four years, and I can tell you with every sense of pride—not in terms of arrogance but of quiet fulfilment—that my candidature as a presidential candidate in 2019 and my foray into politics have had a very significant impact in Nigeria.

Since 1999, I believe I am the first person who is not a full-time professional politician to seriously consider running for president in 2019. Rallying the young people of Nigeria who would otherwise be marginalised has given millions of Nigerians hope that Nigeria’s leadership will be more intellectual, technically competent, younger, and so on.

So there has been an impact, and that is why I say that I am satisfied. However, I have made a personal decision that I would prefer to continue contributing to Nigeria in a non-partisan manner. Many of us know the story of the event some months ago when I was an aspirant for the ticket of a political party.

When I was cheated out of that opportunity, I could have gone to any of the several other parties that were offering me their tickets, but I chose not to do so. I could have decamped to another political party, a big one like APC or PDP, and not been a candidate for anything, but I chose not to do so. I resigned from the party and said that I would not join any party and that I would not be a candidate in 2023.

That position has allowed me to be able to make contributions that I can see and that many others can attest to that have been helpful in the evolution of the polity. I have also gone into some professional endeavors, in particular heading an independent, non-partisan think tank, the Institute for Governance and Economic Transformation. There is no way you can run such an entity and be credible if you are an active partisan politician.

Recently, we brought out the report, “Nigeria’s Poverty Trap and How to End It.” That report was widely distributed and commented upon, and even several presidential candidates thanked me for the institute’s work in bringing out this report and said that it had helped them.

I know, for example, that some reached out to me personally and privately, while others commented publicly. For example, I know that Peter Obi commented on it on social media, so there are many ways you can influence. You can influence the discussion and the mindset; you must not be a partisan politician running for office. I am no longer running for office in Nigeria. I have decided to run my life.

That’s an interesting opening salvo. I expect that there will be some people who supported you and who would be fairly disappointed, but looking more deeply at the statement that you issued about this, it seems to be replete with symbolic significance given that you have been in the political trenches, as we said, with the best and the worst of them and, in your words, “bloodied but unbowed,” and your conclusion is that partisanship is simply too divisive and that you have had enough of it.

Yes, for me as a person. You now understand that partisanship cannot be eliminated as a path to political power in a democracy because all political parties competing for Nigerian votes, for example, must consider the end game. The end game is national interest, and there must always be people who are positioned as independent, experienced statesmen who can also speak to current and future issues and advise political partisans. I’ve advised the policymakers on the path to follow, and that is where I want to be now. I have enough experience, enough global and national exposure, enough competence, and enough of a reputation to play that role.

And looking back at your foray into the political space, notably your presidential bid in 2019, how would you assess that effort? I know you touched on this earlier in your opening statement, but how would you assess that effort and whether it was really worth it or not in your assessment?

In my opinion, it was absolutely worth it; I think it was a historical effort. I think it began to point and change the conversation in the Nigerian polity in a certain direction that we now see today, which is that the established politicians of the two main political parties so far have not delivered what Nigeria needs.

What we have seen delivered—let’s get down to the brass tacks—is that there are 133 million Nigerians living in multidimensional poverty out of a population of about 216 million. That’s not a very good report card. My 2019 campaign goal was to refocus Nigerian politics on issues, policies, and vision. I was the first presidential candidate to come out with a well-thought-out manifesto put together in a book, “Big, Build, Innovate, and Grow,” which many other candidates started copying.

And so I feel like I have been a pathfinder, and today we have a lot more Nigerian young people interested in politics who are engaging very actively. This was the journey I started in 2019, and some others, mostly young people, joined me. So I believe it was well worth it. I learned three very important lessons, which are: One, Nigerian politics is a money guzzler.  If you have not stolen public funds like I have not, If you are not massively independently wealthy like I am not because most of my life has been in public service whether in the United Nations or the Nigerian Central bank you know but I have been mostly in public life.

If you don’t have that type of money and are not extremely desperate, you may not necessarily be able to win the gold trophy of the election itself, but in politics there are many kinds of victories, such as the kinds that I believe I also achieved.

You are aware that you may not win the gold cup in a soccer match, but you may win silver or bronze, and there is also the joy and honour of participating in the sport.

Now the other lesson that I learned is that if the electoral act was not changed, there was no hope for politicians outside the APC and PDP, and so after the election in 2019, I played a major role in the advocacy for the electoral act that is going to govern the 2023 elections. I also found out that Nigerians were not ready for the change they say they want; if you have not stolen funds and you are so wealthy are they prepared to donate there one thousand naira, there five thousand naira to give you two to five billion naira to run a strong campaign?

The truth is that many of them are not. They talk and talk, and so the question is whether you can kill yourself in the process as it carries a lot of risk. Because I campaigned across the whole country, including the places that were just quite dangerous—the roads, the air, everywhere—you ask yourself, “I have a family and I am doing this, and I am even spending my personal resources that I don’t have a lot of,” and you think about the people for whom you are fighting. Because many of them are illiterate and because many of them are poor, they would still go and vote for those who have been their oppressors for.

Nigerian politics is a money guzzler.

So these are important lessons that I learned, and I had to ask myself a question as to whether the time has not come to reposition yourself and to continue to contribute with your passion and your love for country, but you must not be a partisan. Some people would be partisan, and I have chosen not to be one.

Read also: Some people would be partisan and I have chosen not to be period;

Well, I have to say, Kingsley, that is an absolutely riveting assessment that you have given there. It is an education in itself and probably worth another one of your interesting books, but I am curious to know what the experience you have had and how well you are now in your non-partisanship and hanging up your political boots tells us about whether you are likely to formally declare support for any of the candidates in this 2023 race and perhaps campaign for them.

As I said to you, I am now the head of an independent, non-partisan think tank that comes out with policy propositions and helps to educate the people and policy makers, and I think it is very inconsistent with this professional occupation for me to now come out and be declaring and campaigning for any particular candidate because if I do so, any report we come out with or any policy proposal we come out with will shut out half of the political space because in their minds they have already identified me with a particular candidate whom you are now campaigning for, and so the integrity of your professional work would be called into question.

Have you seen anywhere in the world that anybody who runs a policy think tank declares partisan political interests? Of course not. As a citizen, I will have my preferences among candidates, and I will vote for candidates that I will support at various levels.

Yes, I am a citizen, but there is a bit of an inconsistency between what I am doing now and going back into partisan politics. Even though you’re not a candidate, you are still in partisan politics because you are campaigning for a particular person.

But you can point out to people what the country needs, and from there they can make their own judgement. And like one of the Greek philosophers said, I have nothing to teach anyone; all I have to do is help them learn how to think. So that is the point that I am trying to make, and I want to make one further point, which I think is very important.

Nigeria is at a crossroads. Many people do not understand the depth of the mess in which Nigeria is today, whether from the point of view of the economy, the point of view of security, or from the point of view of nation-building.

Therefore, I believe that whoever wins the election the problems of Nigeria cannot be solved only by practicing contest and control of power, we have to build a national consensus about what Nigeria means to every one of us. We have to build consensus on how we see the future and our role in it. We have to build consensus on where we are in the world. We are God’s children too, and we are entitled to a place in the sun.

For us to build that kind of consensus, there has to be some sort of government of national unity, some sort of reaching across the aisle, and I am more interested in that than in just partisanship for its own sake.

Again, that is an absolutely fascinating analysis that you have given there, and coming from that point of view, looking at this ballot through the prism of what has happened so far and looking ahead to what 2023 might bring, what do you see?

I see a very, very uncertain picture in Nigeria today as we head into the 2023 election. INEC offices are being blown up, that is a very foreboding thing. I see uncertainty because, for the first time in recent history, Nigerians are not sure who will win the next presidential election.

From 1999 on, it seemed obvious because there were only two major parties. Today we have at least four major contenders who control chucks of votes, and therefore, that is the nature of uncertainty, and I think it is good for our democracy. It has made the two older parties now have to understand that they cannot take anything for granted anymore, and that means that the voters are becoming more and more empowered, and that is a good thing for democracy. So this is what I see—there is a bit of uncertainty.

First of all, the security dimensions of the elections are very important and need to be focused upon by INEC and the Federal Government. Then there is the question of the politics itself; nobody can predict the outcome. I can tell you that, and I actually think that is a very good thing.

Let’s try to look at the aftermath of the February 25th presidential election. Do you see the dominance of the historical “big two”—the APC and the PDP—continuing and their fierce electoral rivalry taking stage in the struggle for victory, or do you see their dominance being brought to an end by parties such as Labour Party and the NNPP?

Yes! I believe that there will be surprises in 2023, so I do not see the unchallenged dominance of the APC and the PDP playing out. I believe that newer contenders such as the NNPP and the Labour Party would take a significant chunk of votes, such that the outcome between the APC and the PDP is left very uncertain. Now, even in some parts of the country, you cannot predict that those newcomers would not upend the other parties, at least in certain parts of the country.

That changes the political arithmetic very, very dramatically. Many people have said that there could be a run-off. We don’t know, but the fact of the matter is that, whether you like it or not, APC and PDP remain the dominant parties—yes, but they are no longer unchallenged.

In the North, Kwankwaso will be a factor, whether anybody likes it or not. He could spring up some surprises; whether those surprises are nasty or pleasant depends on who’s looking at them.

While in the Southern part of the country, in the middle belt it is possible that candidate Peter Obi could also spring a major surprise in terms of maybe unending some of the older parties.

And all these things are happening because the two older political parties have taken Nigerians for granted for too long. That is in the past, and this is not a critique of their candidate. Their candidates have not yet been elected president, so we do not know for sure what kind of president they will be if they were to win.

But the fact is that they have the legacy baggage of their party’s previous performance in power. And they also have issues of national unity and nation building that would play out in Nigeria’s election.

Many people would argue that shouldn’t the presidency rotate between the north and south as it has happened before and if that is the case of some candidates in the election. Some people would say the north has a very large population, so maybe those candidates can try to get a lot of northern votes, then pile them up with their little votes in the south and across the country and win.

All these are matters of political strategy, as we don’t know what the outcome would be, but the truth is that there is a significant unbiased position in the complexity of the 2023 election.

Are you convinced that the front-runner candidate, based on your assessment, has what it takes to deal with the enormous challenges the country faces in the economy, security, education, and many other things that you mentioned?

I believe that to be very honest and very firm; if we remove the matter of the legacy factor, I believe the front-runners can do the job. But there are some very important caveats here: if people have formed some political habit and that is how they got to prominence or political dominance, it may be very difficult for them to change those habits if they get into office, which becomes a disadvantage; that is one very important factor, but all of the candidates are strong.

But we have to deal with what the primaries have thrown up—the delegates, who are simply for sale, anywhere, anytime. And that is sad, because what it means is that parties do not necessarily bring out their best candidates.

INEC is not regulating the Nigerian political system as intrusively as it should. INEC should regulate Nigerian politicians the way the CBN regulates banks.