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My strategies will rescue Nigeria from deep crises – PPC Presidential Candidate

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Presidential candidate of the Providence People’s Congress (PPC), Victor Okhai, is upbeat that ahead of the 2019 elections, his strategies for various sectors of Nigeria’s economy will guarantee the best that will resolve the myriad of crises ravaging the country.  In this interview with INNOCENT ODOH, the veteran journalist and film maker also criticises the suspension of Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, stressing that it is unconstitutional even as he chides the fight against corruption as being selective and full of victimisation and persecution. Excerpts:

Barely two weeks to the presidential election, how prepared are you?

Well, I am going to say that no preparation is ever really enough. Preparationis ongoing and at every point in time there are new challenges that come up especially for a new party. Obviously with the INEC window for campaigns and the limited resources, you cannot really say that you have enough time to cover the entire country at the presidential level but we have done what we can. We have candidates spread across the country. They are our foot soldiers because they have been campaigning for themselves, for the party and by implication for the president as well. So, wherever the elections meet us we are ready.

The campaigns appear to be dominated by the main opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). You and your party appear not visible in the campaigns. Why?

I can tell you for free that what you see at the rally of the major parties are hired crowds. The same people you see at the rally of one of the major parties are also hired for another major party. There are professionals who hire people for this. Of course this has an impact because what you see is a situation where people are looking for where the crowd is but it does not necessarily translate into vote.

 So, what we are doing is just reaching out to people where they are. If we hold a rally and we see a thousand people genuinely, these are people who are with us. We do not pretend to have the structures and resources of any of the two big parties that will be deceiving ourselves. But we do know one thing, we have a message and we are pushing that message and it is resonating wherever we go to and the important thing is to remain in the race and to remain sincerely, not those who are in the race but they are backing other candidates.

 In the race a winner will emerge from those names on the ballot not those outside of it and because we are in the ballot anything can happen to throw us up. Anything can happen to bring them down but we are ready to take advantage whenever a window of opportunity opens up to throw us to the Nigerian people.

You are aware of the unimpressive figures and data on the performance of the economy especially under this administration. 20.9 million people are out of jobs, inflation at 11.28percent, and GDP growth rate at 1.5percent. What strategies do you have to reverse this threatening situation if you become president?

I want to tell you that a situation where you have the richest man in Africa coming from Nigeria and at the same time, Nigeria is considered the poverty capital of the world is an anomaly, it is a terrible situation.  I think our banking systems and policies are largely responsible for the way the economy is run.  I was listening to one of the presidential candidates who said in a debate that he has provided 45, 000 jobs in his state.

But I would rather empower 1 million people to provide five jobs each that will translate into five million jobs than to empower one individual at the expense of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), which will provide even 500,000 thousands of jobs. This is the problem that we have in this country. The poor people put the money in the bank and few individuals take the money of the poor people as loan to set up new businesses and then employ very few people and keep many people unemployed.

We have unemployment figures of over 20 million. We have seen companies that come from abroad and get licenses and they take loans from Nigerian banks, using money of the poor to grow their businesses as the expense of SMEs. You know what happens at the end of the day, these people have the best lawyers so when the default you cannot even touch them. What happens at the end of the day is that they collapse many of these banks. They owe bank A and when the bank A begins to give them trouble they go to bank B.  Or they borrow money from bank B to pay up part of the bank A’s loans and the cycle continues and it becomes a cycle of poverty. That is an anomaly. We need to reverse the trend. I don’t care about having the richest man in the Africa. I care more about lifting people out of poverty because our policy is targeted at the poor.

How do you address the anomaly in the banking system as you said especially the question of high interest rate and its impact on SMEs?

You see the problem with the poor is not the high-interest rate, the problem is access to credit. Certainly the poor are more faithful in paying back loans than your so-called big men who will put up lawyers when it is time to pay their loan. It is not so much of the high-interest rate but even then that can be redressed. The Peoples Bank under Maria Sokenu was targeted at the poor; the poor had access to credit. So there must be a deliberate plan to reach out to the poor but there are things we need to do. We need to revisit our land use act in such a way that we remove obstacles to the issue of ownership to land and perfecting titles to land.

There are many poor people that have land whether family land or community land but the process of getting title that will give them access to credit is tedious. So, I will initiate policies that will take away obstacles to securing titles. We will bring back something like the people bank once again.  We are not talking about loans of 20 million, 30 million or 50 million, I am talking about N50,000, N100,000 to poor and in six months you watch them pay back. We also need to go back to the cooperative system and train people in cooperative management, so that the cooperative can take the loans because they are more faithful.

Again, one of the things we intend to do is to create industrial hubs around the country. Around Benue state for instance, you see people begging you to buy a bag of orange for less thanN300; they just want to sell because it will spoil because of the lack of storage. If you go to China, there are small machines you can use for juicing and packaging for 500 dollars. So we can give the loans within the cooperative system, get those machines from China, give to the orange farmers as loan and process it. One of the policies we will initiate is that we will ban the importation of raw materials let begin to manufacture. Let us start in a crude form and learn from there. This will create jobs in logistics, packaging, manufacturing, distribution, retails just like the GSM revolution with it attendant value chain of millions of jobs.

We give lower exchange rate for people who are going on pilgrimage but not for people who are into production how does that benefit us? America subsidizes its farmers to the anger and chagrin of the rest if the world but America has no apologies for that. They subsidies their farmers; they buy excess products from the farmers and store them. So instead of subsidizing the rich men who import petrol into Nigeria why don’t we subsidize agriculture, bringing in this machinery and subsidizing them and grow the agriculture sector and you have more things to export. Our policies are upside down we have subsidies in the wrong place; we are subsidising the rich at the expense of the poor. That is the problem we have in this country.

The Boko Haram crisis has been compounded by the herdsmen crisis in north central and the banditry and North West. What will you do differently if you become president of the country?

Sometimes in business, they say think local but act global. It cannot be different with security. The problem with security is that people stay in remote locations and assume that they know the problems in the localities. In every locality, people know where their problems are coming from and to show respect if you involve them, and you work with them, this issue can be dealt with. The people in Zamfara know those that are attacking them. But people sit down in Abuja and send people there who don’t know what the real issues are. That is where the problem starts from.

Remove the issue of tribe if it means working with the local vigilante who understand we should empower them not necessarily put arms in their hands although it helps if you can train them and make them part of the workforce under supervision to boost their local intelligence. You can get them to infiltrate Boko Haram. So, we also need local policing and Intelligence is very important for policing. There are, however, those who do not want this problem to end because they are getting money from it ranging from supply of arms, logistics and food to IDP camps. Above all for Boko Haram we need dialogue it is very important.

Dialogue with Boko Haram?

Let me tell why dialogue is very important. It is an instrument of war while you are fighting, Yar’ Adua did it with the Niger delta militants and it ended the militancy.

The current government insists it is fighting corruption but complains that corruption is fighting back. First of all how will you define corruption in Nigerian context and how will you fight it?

I define corruption in the global contest. When you define corruption only in the Nigerian contest then that is when we begin to have a problem. When you corrupt something it means to take it away from its original form if you corrupt rice it is no longer rice but a different thing. Nepotism, for instance, is corruption because of it an anomaly. When you ignore the federal character principle, which is constitutional and tell us you know those who you can work with and you trust them that is corruption.

 For me, we need to begin to respect the rule of law.  When people steal we give it a nice name we don’t call it what it is. These people are usually shielded either because they belong to the ruling party or because they are friends and cronies of the ruling party and so they are shielded and protected, that is corrupting the process.

We need a leadership that will recognize that corruption is a cankerworm that destroys the fabric and system of any nation. You undermine yourself when you protect thieves; you undermine yourself when you allow corruption. But most important prevention is better than cure. We need to deploy everything at our disposal to stem corruption or stealing and financial crimes from the source and technology makes this easy for us.  Technology makes forensic investigation for financial crimes very easy. If you want to move money and if you deploy technology, and it is done through digital means you can trail the money. If a contractor is to be paid and you pay him directly into his account, you remove those who will necessarily want to take kick back. Only technology can help us do that. The preventive measure is better because it is far more expensive to bring people to book because they have a lot of money to hire the best lawyers.

What is your take on the arraignment of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Walter Onnoghen and his eventual suspension by President Buhari?

When the foundation of anything is faulty, you cannot build anything on it. If you look at the motive, it is corrupted right from the start. You can do the right thing the wrong way and once you do the right thing the wrong way you corrupt the system.  Then whatever you do cannot stand. If the Chief Justice committed an infraction, he cannot be excused and should not be excused. But in a situation where there is selective victimisation, I use the word victimization deliberately, because until a man is proven guilty he is innocent.

 But when you select those you choose to fight and exclude some other people and everybody is watching and is common knowledge that some people have allegations hanging on their heads, then it becomes victimisation because it is selective persecution, selective prosecution and selective victimisation. Secondly, there is a process for removal of the Chief Justice. If you choose to pervert the system and begin to impose your will on another arm of government unconstitutionally, then it is going to be a state of anomie or confusion, which is what we are seeing now.

 If you do the right with executive recklessness and rascality then you create tension in the system and this can upturn our democracy. In my administration, the rule of law will be respected and must be respected. No one arm of government must arm twist the other.

So you are saying that President Buhari was wrong in suspending the CJN?

The process was unconstitutional and was a perversion of the rule of law. They did the wrong thing and started finding their way to do the right thing. Why were they in a hurry, why don’t they go through the normal process? There was a motive; they could have gone through the normal process. But they did not do that. They perverted the process and started trying to do the right thing. That was executive recklessness on the part of President Buhari.

Education, agriculture and the health sectors have suffered neglect in the past. How will you budget for these three sectors?

Thank you for this.  Education and human capital development for me is very critical and education for me is not about learning to read and write. Education is the total liberation of man’s mind and when you liberate a man’s mind, the man is capable of doing anything. Singapore, Japan and other leading economies I know today don’t have mineral resources.

 The State of California for instance is the fifth largest economy in the world after US, China, Japan and Germany. The state of California is ahead of the UK. Now when you look at it, you have in California Silicon Valley, which is about technology and innovation. It is about the new ABC in coding I am talking about Information technology powered by education. The state of California has produced the richest men in the world because technology is the product of education.

 For me we have to revamp our education, the new ABC is going to be coding. Whether we like it or not education is the future and we better embrace technology and innovation at its infantile stage. Young children catch up very fast, so we need to introduce coding in school so that the young children learn  computer skills and by the time they are eleven they will start writing apps, by the time they are 14, 15 some of them will start making money. So we need to build our people and build our economy. We must also prioritize vocational education.

 For me there will be no approval from banks for education abroad. If you want to send your son to school in America, good luck to you but you will not get a dime from the bank. You can source your money from somewhere else. So, we cannot use money meant for agriculture and manufacturing to train children abroad who will likely remain there and not come back to Nigeria. There will not be approval for foreign exchange for education same with health.  There will be compulsory education till the age of eighteen, above 18 your parents will be responsible. There will be free and compulsory adult education till the age of 65.

Subsidies used for petrol we will be diverted them to education, health and agriculture. These are far more important to us than to subsidise a few rich people. We will offer tax holiday not less than five years to those who want to invest in education. We will encourage school from abroad to come and invest in Nigeria and we will increase the budget for education. A lot of money will be voted for research and there will be a marriage between research institution and manufacturing sector in the country. We will encourage research in our universities and restore a pride of place in our public services.

We have enhanced pay package for FIRS, for NNPC and other federal intuitions but we do not have enhanced package for our teachers, that is an anomaly and we will change that. We will have an enhanced package for teachers.

No officer in my government and no government appointee and any government official from level 12 and above will be allowed to train their child outside the shores of this country. If a child is above 21 he is an adult we don’t have a problem with that. If you are a civil servant under my government, and it is discovered that your child is schooling abroad you are in trouble.

On the health sector, the reason there is decay in our health sector today is that our big men can travel abroad. There will be no health estacode in my administration. Let the Indian hospitals come and set up in Nigeria because we will not approve money for treatment abroad. Why people go abroad is that diagnostic equipment are not available and when they are available they are expensive .So we shall subsidise the equipment.

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